Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic admitted his side face an embarrassing early exit from Euro 2020 unless they drastically improve after a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in Glasgow on Friday.
The World Cup finalists have just one point from their opening two games and need to beat Scotland on home soil at Hampden on Tuesday to maintain hope of a place in the last 16.
Patrik Schick broke Scottish hearts on Monday with two goals to beat the hosts 2-0, including an incredible strike from nearly 50 metres that will go down as one of the best in European Championship history.
The Bayer Leverkusen forward had a much simpler task from the penalty spot to open the scoring, but Ivan Perisic’s stunning strike early in the second half maintained Croatia’s chances of reaching the knockout stage.
“We need energy, we are struggling,” said Dalic, who was heralded a national hero for Croatia’s run to the final in Russia three years ago.
“We had a bad start, we were slow and we were trying to set unnecessary pressure, we were not compact. But, after the goal we played better. Everything is still in our hands.”
The Czechs move a point ahead of England at the top of the group ahead of the Three Lions’ grudge match with Scotland later on Friday.
Coach Jaroslav Silhavy’s wild celebrations at the final whistle showed who were the happier side with a point, with the Czechs likely to have already done enough to secure a place in the last 16 thanks to their four points.
“I was surprised they didn’t attack us in the first half, they let us play and we made use of that, but we have to be more dangerous up front,” said Silhavy.
“I have to thank the guys. It is a really precious point against such a strong opponent. We’ll see what the maths will show us, if it’s enough.”
‘Bitter taste’ for Croatia
Croatia upset Argentina and England on their road to the World Cup final, but have looked a pale imitation of that side so far this tournament without Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, who have retired from international football.
The ageing Luka Modric and Perisic remain by a distance their biggest threats, but both the veterans were critical of their side.
“There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn’t win. We entered the match really disorganised,” said Modric.
“We looked better in the second half. We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn’t win. Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through.”
Croatia can count themselves unlucky with the manner in which they went behind.
Dejan Lovren’s elbow caught Schick as the two challenged for an aerial ball into the box.
There appeared to be no intent by the former Liverpool defender, but the referee still pointed to the spot after a VAR review.
Schick sent Dominik Livakovic the wrong way to move ahead in the race for the Golden Boot.
Ante Rebic had a great chance to level immediately, but summed up Croatia’s half when he sliced horribly wide.
Dalic had seen enough as he made two changes at the break with Bruno Petkovic and Luka Ivanusec introduced.
But it was Croatia’s reliable source of goals in major tournaments that came up with the moment of magic needed to launch their tournament less than two minutes after the break.
Perisic cut inside onto his weaker right foot to blast into the top corner for his eighth goal at a European Championship or World Cup.
“Everyone in the team has to give more that this, otherwise we will go home after the group stage,” said Perisic. “We have a chance, we can go through, but we need to be better.”