Euro 2012: Craig Levein sees reasons to be cheerful after Croatia game
Scotland manager Craig Levein claims to have gleaned some encouragement from analysing World Cup opponents Croatia despite their impressive victory over the Republic of Ireland.
Croatia, who are top seeds in Scotland’s World Cup qualifying group, were deserved 3-1 winners over the Irish in their opening Euro 2012 game, with imposing strikers Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic both on target. However, Sean St Ledger’s headed goal from a free-kick was one of several things that gave Levein some hope as he watched in Poznan.
“I’m still trying to decide whether they were really good or if Ireland maybe just underperformed a little bit,” Levein told talkSPORT. “I wasn’t surprised by Croatia, I knew they were a good side. They are No 1 seeds in our group so you expect them to be a good team. What I was hoping was to see something we could maybe take encouragement from. There were a few things I felt that we could look at and learn from that could give us an opportunity to score against them.
“But they were good going forward. It’s very unusual to see two teams playing 4-4-2 and both teams played with two strikers right up the pitch and didn’t drop back out of possession.”
Levein has long been berated by many for fielding his infamous 4-6-0 formation during a key defeat to the Czech Republic in this tournament’s qualifying stages, was impressed with the attacking play of wing-backs Darijo Srna and Ivan Strinic but he hopes their style leaves them open when Scotland face their opponents in Croatia in 12 months’ time. “Srna plays like a winger,” Levein said. “He has got great energy and experience. The way [Ivan] Rakitic tucked in was clever and the two of them linked very well. But when you’re as brave as that in the full-back areas, if you can get a quick transition and get the ball forward into the wide positions, there are opportunities there.
“The two full-backs aren’t defenders – that’s what I see. They’re more inclined to attacking so the best part of their game isn’t defending. In particular, anything that comes into the box in the air, to me they didn’t look particularly solid.
“There was another free-kick right after the goal where Ireland had a free player round the back and, later in the game, there were other opportunities from set-pieces. So that’s an encouraging sign if we can get balls and bodies in the box. But they are a good side. They have good players and a real physicality about them.”
The goalscoring prowess of Jelavic was no surprise to any Scottish football fan given his prolific 18 months with Rangers. The former Rapid Vienna forward has continued that form by scoring 11 goals in 16 appearances for Everton following his £5million January transfer. Levein praised Goodison Park manager David Moyes for taking a chance with Jelavic, although he did not see much risk in the signing.
“I think at Rangers, Jelavic was probably more affected than most by the troubles off the field,” Levein said. “His last two or three months weren’t great, I think he had kind of switched off by then. But prior to that he was excellent. A lot of managers in England looked at Jelavic but thought ‘can he do it at the top level?’ You look at the fact he was playing international football and doing well in Scotland and, for the price he was available at, he was a steal.”
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