Croatia talk up ‘big opportunity’ to beat England through superior midfield

Croatia have a “big opportunity” to beat England in their Euro 2020 opener thanks to possessing a superior midfield, the goalkeeper Dominik Livaković has claimed.

The Dinamo Zagreb player described the game at Wembley on Sunday as “the biggest match of my career” given he will be representing his country at a major tournament for the first time. And, despite England’s home advantage, the 26-year-old believes the collective strength of Croatia’s midfield can ensure a repeat of their victory in the 2018 World Cup semi-final.

“Our midfielders can play against anyone,” Livaković said. “I think our midfield is better than theirs, so I hope that is somewhere we can do well. That’s where I see a big opportunity for us. I’m not saying their midfielders are not as good individually, they are very good midfielders – but considering Luka [Modric], Mateo [Kovacic], [Marcelo] Brozovic, [Ivan] Perisic and [Nikola] Vlasic are all in excellent form at the moment I think that is where we have a big opportunity. Mateo has just won the Champions League. England also have excellent players, I like watching Grealish at Aston Villa.”

Chelsea’s Champions League win against Manchester City gave Kovacic his fourth triumph in the competition, having featured in three victorious Real Madrid squads alongside Modric. The 35-year-old remains one of the finest midfielders in world football, Kovacic claimed. “Luka is special,” the Chelsea midfielder said. “I don’t even know how to describe him. We are very good friends outside the pitch and so I know how he conducts himself, and he is a great, great professional.

“He has worked so hard to get where he is now, which is one of the best midfielders in the world. At his age you see a lot of players who are maybe starting a downturn in their careers but he is still at the highest level. He is phenomenal. He has given so much to the national team and so much for his club. He plays differently to everyone else and he will be remembered as one of the three best midfielders in the world in this era, if not the best.”

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Kovacic and the former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, who may not be risked on Sunday because of a minor injury, have used their Premier League experience to give inside information on England’s players to their Croatia teammates. “That is going to stay between us,” Kovacic said. “Honestly, we don’t have to give too much advice because everybody knows the Premier League and the English players.

“We all mostly know what’s ahead of us, it’s a big match, an amazing stadium. It is going to be tough, a lot of fights in midfield, but we are ready. This team has played a lot of big matches. This is not a new thing for us.”