A squad often underestimated by World Cup predictors, Croatia boasts a midfield full of dominant, Spanish league players, and an attack that has some top class Italian league players – both factors in their dark horse status. After not making it to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa Croatia got back on track in Brazil in 2014 finishing 19th, their best finish outside of their 1998 3rd place finish in France. Can their elite and underrated talent carry them out of a competitive group into elimination games?
Players to watch for Croatia:
Luka Modric – The main midfield man at Real Madrid, Luka Modric will be the heartbeat of everything that Croatia can muster up in Russia. One of the intangible players that every elite team seem to have amidst their midfield, Modric won’t necessarily be filling the score sheet, but his ability to dictate play and create link up passes that free the offence will be his contribution. He has 106 international caps under his belt for Croatia, bringing experience and talent into the squad.
Ivan Perisic – The Inter Milan left winger has an intensity in his game that Croatia will be ever so happy to add to their ranks for the World Cup. Converting 11 goals in Serie A this season, Perisic evened that total with assists showing he can create as much as he can finish. A versatile attacking player who can take control of a game – with the striker options Croatia have, this could be a fun tournament for Perisic.
Andrej Kramaric – My dark horse player on a dark horse team, the 26 year old striker from Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga could be the man to replace long servant and still potent target man and striker Mario Mandzukic. He has scored 13 goals this season and added 8 assists in 32 league games, showing he can be a centre forward on an elite stage. Look for Kramaric to surpass Mandzukic this tournament as the Croatian striker moving forward.
Their pool is not only competitive for Croatia, its winnable. Many are taking Argentina as the favourites to move on from Pool D but don’t count Croatia out just yet. Their team has a midfield led by Modric that features his Real Madrid partner Mateo Kovacic, and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic – some elite talents. As well, the striker duo of Kramaric and Mandzukic will either be a lethal tandem on the pitch, or a solid 1-2 punch from the bench. Any ways you cut it Iceland, Argentina, and Nigeria better bring their A-Game if they want to pry results off of Modric and the Croatian crew.