Thursday 22 February 2018

World Cup team preview: Croatia

Croatia's Darijo Srna (L) and Mario Mandzukic celebrate defeating Iceland after their 2014 World Cup playoff match in Zagreb
Croatia's Darijo Srna (L) and Mario Mandzukic celebrate defeating Iceland after their 2014 World Cup playoff match in Zagreb

21 days to go until the festival of football kicks off in Brazil and we have 21 more teams to preview. Today it's Croatia.

A lot has happened in Croatian football since they arrived at the World Cup in France in 1998 and shocked the planet with their 3-0 quarter-final win over Germany.

The Davor Suker-inspired team would lose to eventual winners France in the semis but they had announced themselves on the World stage.

They have yet to emulate the heroics of 98 but they remain one of the most technically gifted sides in European football.

Their players play in the top leagues in Europe and on their day they are a match for anyone.

Facing Brazil won't faze the Croats but trying to finish as runners-up to Scolari's men is a more realistic prospect.

Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico.

Tournament odds: 150/1

How they got here

They opened their campaign with five wins and a draw in their opening six games and looked set to cruise through but they took just one point from their next four games, losing to Scotland and Belgium at home.

They managed to qualify for a playoff at  Serbia's expense but after the final group game, their coach Igor Stimac resigned.

Despite having a man advantage for most of their first leg of their playoff against Iceland, the game ended goalless.

Mario Mandzukic grabbed the opener with Darijo Srna’s decisive effort giving Croatia a 2-0 win in the return leg, although a red card shown to Mandzukic – one that means he will likely miss Croatia’s tournament opener – may dampen the mood somewhat by the time the tournament rolls around. 

Key player: Luka Modric

May have been Mandzukic if it wasn't for the suspension that will see him miss the game with Brazil.

Luka Modric has proven at Spurs and Real Madrid to be creative player and despite his small stature, he is also a combative figure.

Kovac also presides over a wealth of international-class attacking talent including Eduardo, Ivica Olic, Nikita Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic.

Luka Modric

Something you might not know about Croatia

Neckties originated in Croatia

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