Croatia defender Josip Čalušić was "delighted" to assume the captain's armband in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship opener against England, despite his disappointment with the 1-1 draw.
With usual captain Filip Mrzljak suspended for the first two Group B games following his red card in the final qualifier against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Čalušić took over the role for the England game and looked set to make a winning start when Domagoj Pavičić put the 2010 semi-finalists ahead in the 57th minute. Nathaniel Chalaboah quickly equalised, however, to leave Čalušić and his team-mates feeling frustrated.
"It's too bad we didn't win as we were much better than them in the first half," the NK Lokomotiva Zagreb player told UEFA.com. "We dominated, had a few good chances and should have scored from at least one of those. It may have been a surprise for some to see us starting the game so well but not to us as we are aware of our quality, while we are well prepared well for the tournament."
Croatia's dominance in the first half contrasted with England's control of the second which led Čalušić to feel "down." "It was not so good for us after the break," he said. "Sure, we scored a goal but if we hadn't conceded so soon afterwards we would probably have held on until the final whistle."
Next up for Dinko Jeličić's side is an encounter against France, who opened their campaign with a 3-0 victory against Serbia, leading Čalušić to describe the 2010 winners as "joint favourites for the title with Spain." "We are aware of their strength but we are certainly not afraid of them," the 18-year-old added.
"We will try to enter that match in the same way as we did against England and hope we can produce something good again. France are strong but they are not invincible so we will play to win as we always do. Our main goal is to claim a [FIFA U-20] World Cup spot but I am sure we have enough quality to reach the semi-finals. We are very confident."
That optimism can be seen not only on the pitch but also off it, especially when the Croatia players gather to enjoy recreational moments at their team base in Tallinn. "The atmosphere within our group is excellent," Čalušić said. "When we have some free time here we are mostly hanging out together in the hotel playing computer games and also table football against each other. Those are our favourite moments and it is when we are all in a good mood."
An admirer of NK Dinamo Zagreb's Domagoj Vida, Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid CF and Chelsea FC's John Terry, Čalušić believes he and his team-mates can aspire to those standards. "
Can we be a sensation at this tournament? Why not? We are feeling good and are fully motivated."
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