In this summary – The Rivals compare the pre-tournament outlook on Croatia with how they look coming into the Final and who can have an impact.
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?
They have met expectations and far surpassed them, all at the same time. Coming from a 19th place finish in Brazil, Croatia has put it all together, melding a stout back line with what to me has been the best midfield tandem in the tournament with Rakitic and Modric, and topping it off with the clinical ability of Mandzukic. They’ve all shown up at the right time, and this World Cup may just be Croatia’s time.
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.
His WC: While we were dead on in predicting what Modric brings to this side (not that it’s hard to guess considering the player he is) where we missed out were his goals. Luka has gone on to score twice on his way to the Final and is the favourite to come out of it, win or lose, with the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s best player. He’s become a house-hold name for the fair-weather fan.
Ivan Perisic – 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.
His WC: And what a fun tournament Perisic has had. He’s played the bulk of Croatia’s games, and contributed 2 goals. A sore spot for him would be missing a few golden chances, but it hasn’t mattered as they’ve made it to the Final anyway. Look for Perisic to atone for his past misses and pot a big one for his country today.
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.
His WC: Kramaric has definitely done his part for his country this World Cup, playing a total of 314 minutes coming into the final, and scoring 1 goal by his head. One of our dark horses coming into the tournament, he remains in that spot coming into the final where you can look to him to provide his team with a spark.