Croatia somehow entered the 2018 World Cup in Russia under the radar
After all, they were placed in Group D alongside Leo Messi’s Argentina, an exciting Nigeria squad, and the 2016 Euro Cinderella team, Iceland. Nevertheless, the Croatians have managed to be one of the standout teams of the World Cup so far.
Led by captain Luka Modric, Croatia recorded a victory in all three group stage matches. While not completely underrated, Modric certainly doesn’t get the credit he deserves. It’s difficult to understand how a Real Madrid player can be overlooked but having the majority of the focus on Cristiano Ronaldo is partially to blame.
One thing is clear, the 32-year-old midfielder should be considered as one of the best central midfielders currently in the sport.
This Croatia team is not just about Modric, though. Fellow compatriots Ivan Rakitic, also under appreciated, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, and Milan Badelj round out an insanely talented and well-rounded midfield. The Croats also have the powerful Mario Mandzukic up front leading their attack.
Playing as a team
Croatia’s World Cup run has very much been a team effort so far. In fact, they have five different goal-scorers on their five goals from open play. That includes an own goal and a penalty as well. Along with their potent attack, Croatia’s defense has also not allowed a goal from open play during the group stage, giving up one goal from a penalty.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Croatia’s 53% average possession and a small advantage in passes to their opponents (1,368 to 1,213) may not be all that surprising. However, their combined 81% pass completion and a 67 to 54 aerial duel edge is impressive. Another statistic that is interesting is the fact that Croatia have actually been outshot by their opponents so far 40 to 39.
It is possible that Croatia were not on many people’s radar due to the fact that they entered this World Cup struggling with inconsistency. They won just five of their final 10 matches leading up to the big tournament. Only two of these victories came against teams currently in the World Cup. Nevertheless, the Croatians have pulled it together and are now firing on all cylinders.
Croatia will face Denmark in the knockout stage. If they get by Christian Eriksen and company, they would then face the winner of Spain and Russia. Although both of these teams are formidable, Croatia will likely feel confident against either country.
The Croatians defeated Spain to top their group at Euro 2016 just two years ago, and they certainly have more overall quality than the hosts, Russia.
A potential semifinal run during the World Cup would be a fairly successful tournament for the 20th ranked team by FIFA. There are obviously still tough games to play, but this Croatia team can make the final four, if not further.
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