An inspired Luka Modric curled home a magnificent finish as Croatia shrugged off a slow start to Euro 2020 to beat Scotland 3-1 on Tuesday and reach the last 16 in style, leaving their opponents again on the tournament scrap-heap.
Nikola Vlasic and Ivan Perisic were also on target for Croatia in a victory that lifted Zlatko Dalic’s side – so leggy and unconvincing in their first two games – to second in Group D on four points.
They finished ahead, on goals scored, of the Czech Republic, who lost 1-0 to group winners England.
Croatia, lambasted by their own fans and media after their first two games, next face the runner-up of Group E – where Sweden, Slovakia, Spain and Poland are still jockeying for position – in Copenhagen on June 28.
Scotland, who scored their only goal of the tournament through Callum McGregor, finished bottom of the pile on one point, despite a positive performance against England lifting hopes of reaching their first knockouts of a major tournament.
Modric’s form had been called into question at the tournament, but the 35-year-old shaped a delightful finish into the corner of the net with the outside of his foot in the second half to make it 2-1.
“After tonight’s performance, we’d have been able to walk off the pitch with our heads high even if we had lost,” said Modric, now both Croatia’s youngest and oldest scorer at the Euros.
“The goal I scored means a lot to me, I am glad it helped us win but the most important thing is that the whole team looked the part.”
Deprived of Billy Gilmour, who failed a COVID-19 test, Scotland seemed lacking in midfield and Croatia bossed the ball, before deservedly taking the lead after 17 minutes as Vlasic scored a sixth goal for his country.
Scotland miss knockouts again
There seemed little danger when a cross floated towards the far post but Perisic towered above his marker to head down for Vlasic to swivel and finish low into the bottom corner.
The goal drained the life out of Hampden Park and Scotland’s fortunes did not look like improving as Croatia stroked passes around, but just as the World Cup finalists seemed likely to turn the screw further, Steve Clarke’s side struck back.
As the clocked ticked towards halftime, Croatia failed to clear a cross and it fell at the feet of McGregor just outside the box.
He took a touch and drilled the ball low into the bottom corner to score his first goal for his country, and Scotland’s first in any major tournament for 23 years, breathing life back into the home crowd.
Scotland almost fell behind again at the start of the second half but Josko Gvardiol let his first touch get away from him when one-on-one with keeper David Marshall.
The reprieve did not last long as Modric produced his moment of inspiration.
Croatia worked the ball nicely around the box before teeing up Modric from 20 metres and he curled the ball delicately with the outside of his foot into the far corner to restore Croatia’s lead after 62 minutes.
Perisic applied the coup de grace in the 77th minute, sending a glancing header from a corner into the net, ensuring that Scotland’s dreadful run of never making the knockouts at a major tournament in 11 attempts continued.
“I think they just had too much quality in the end, you see the second goal and Modric with the outside of his foot puts it in the top corner,” said Scotland goal scorer McGregor. “That’s what you’re up against at this level. It’s a tough lesson.”