|Source: Sky Sports|
The FIFA World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world is about to the start in a week’s time and fans from all over the world and hosts, Russia will be eager to hold this historic event. The 2014 champions, Germany will be looking to defend their crown with a relatively new squad but, will find it very difficult as there are many quality teams in each group and many unpredictable dark horses. One such group is group D.
Group D consists of Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria. Argentina are by far odds on to win the group and qualify easily for the next round but, the second spot is the one which will be eyed on by three unpredictable dark horses. Nigeria are by far one of the best teams from the African continent, Iceland can also pack a punch and shock the world one again like that night when they knocked-out England from the Euro 2016. Lastly, we have Croatia. The Baltic side have become one of the most improved team out of the 32 qualified nations. Croatia may only be known for two or four, star players, but there are also so many hidden gems who can surprise a few. Croatia may not have the potential to reach the finals or win the cup but, they can strongly target a quarter-final place or to be realistic, reaching the round of 16. These targets would be ideal and make a whole country having a 4.5 million population happy and proud.
The 2018 World Cup will be Croatia’s 4th in their history after defeating Greece 4-1 in the qualifiers earlier this year. Having qualified for the tournament for the first time in 1998, it is fair to say that Croatia aren’t a rookie team but, a less experienced one. The most surprising fact is that their best ever World Cup finish is third place, that too in their debut World Cup! They have a great history in surprising a few and with a brand new talented squad, who knows, Zlatko Dalic’s men can surprise a few. Captain, Luka Modric is the most the most capped player with 105 international appearances and Dominic Livakovic the least capped player with 1. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is the oldest player in the squad aged 33 and Duje Caleta-Car is the youngest aged 21.
As mentioned before, Croatia may not have one of the best overall squads but, can be counted as an average squad with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Croatia have a strong midfield but have a weak defence. They also have a decent but, far average attack which is solely dependent on the quality and performance of its midfield.
Croatia have an experienced goalkeeper Subasic with Lovre Kalinic as the back-up and Livakovic as the third choice and understudy goalkeeper. As mentioned, defence is the area where they are most vulnerable as the lack quality. Their best defender is their right back, Sime Vrsaljiko of Atletico Madrid followed by one more known player in Dejan Lovern who reached the Champions League Final with Liverpool but, eventually lost to a star-studded Real Madrid side. Lovern hasn’t had a good season with Liverpool, who have been forced to play him due to injuries to Matip and Gomez. His numerous defensive errors also make him a disliked figure in his country but, is one of their ‘best’ centre backs currently. To support him, Croatia have Vedran Corluka and Tin Jedvaj. Left back is by far their most inexperienced and vulnerable position with Besiktas left back, Domagoj Vida guaranteed a starting role and Ivan Strinic to support.
|Source: Euro Sport Daily|
Midfield is Croatia’s best position with the side having one of the best and experienced midfields in Europe. Ivan Rakitic and Mario Brozovic are mainly deployed as holding midfielders with Milan Badelj and Mateo Kovacic who is under Manchester United’s radar as the back up options. Real Madrid’s midfield maestro, Luka Modric is mainly placed as an attacking midfielder for his national side even though he plays in central midfield for Los Blancos. He is played due to his ability to read and control the game with his numerous Champions League experience to help strikers. Him in the attack makes the strikers assured about chances created and dynamism. Marco Pjaca operates on the right wing with Ivan Perisic operating on the left and also capable to play on the right. They don’t have those many wing options but often change formations mid-game so that wingers and substitutes can play in their desired roles.
Croatia have good options in attack with Mario Madzukic leading the attack as a sole striker with Andrej Kramaric and Nikola Kalinic as back-up strikers. It was Kalinic who scored the winner for Croatia and guided them to Russia.
Zlatko Dalic prefers to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with changes to a 4-4-2 mid-game. He has adopted the 4-2-3-1 in the international friendlies and it looks like the best suited formation for the team. Subasic is expected to start in goal with Vrsalijko and Vida as the full-backs. Lovern and Corluka are expected to start in centre back followed by Brozovic and Rakitic in defensive midfield. Pjaca and Perisic are expected to be the wide men whereas captain Modric should start in attacking midfield with Mandzukic leading the line. Vrsalijko loves to make attacking runs and supply crosses from the left whereas Perisic who is one of the best crossers of the ball makes deadly orthodox crosses from the left wing with his stronger left foot. Rakitic and Modric control the game and create the chances for the attackers. They are the main talisman for the team. Mandzukic is expected to continue the role of a classical target forward who heads the ball and uses his strength to score goals. A similar role which he does at Juventus.
The 32-year-old captain, Modric will be the most important player for his country as he as he will have carry his whole team and control all key aspects of the game, chance creation, attack and defending. The three-time Champions League winner will also provide vital experience to his national side. Also, the fact that it could be his last ever World Cup due to age and Real Madrid have already started looking into signing an understudy to succeed him in the near future.
Rakitic, the Barcelona work-horse will also be under the spotlight to help his national side push for a challenging World Cup with a player who possesses similar qualities as him but, is a crucial rival on the club stage, Modric. Rakitic, plays in the defensive half of the midfield but, also controls the game from that end. He is also an excellent creator and one of the best in his position. He is always involved in very game getting 93 touches on average per game. He is 30 years old and could still have another World Cup or European Championship in him.
|Source: Croatia Weekly|
The Inter Milan winger was one of the best players in the Euro 2016. He will be a crucial factor for Croatia due to his dangerous crossing ability and with target men like Mandzukic and Kramaric, Perisic will be a key player for Croatia.
Croatia are placed in group D along with Argentina who are favourites to win the group and Iceland and Nigeria. Iceland are an unpredictable but, comparatively weaker to the rest. But, their exploits in the Euro’s make them worthy of packing a punch. Nigeria are one of the best team from Africa and have some decent quality. To conclude, Croatia would have a great World Cup if they reach the round of 16 stage and would be ecstatic if they reach the quarter finals.