Measuring nations against one another in terms of national pride is ridiculous. Yet, it is hard to argue against Croatia’s standing at the top of that hypothetical list. Plus, given Croatia’s talent, it is a clear soccer powerhouse.
Croatia’s population hovers just shy of 4 million. For reference, that is roughly equal to the state of Oklahoma. Success at 2018 World Cup came as a surprise for many. That is, with the exception of Croatians themselves.
Now, in 2022, many believe the country can take that one final step that narrowly eluded them four years ago. See, success at the World Cup is not new for Croatia, even if it has a short history to show for it.
Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 but was not allowed to participate in any World Cup qualifying until the 1998 qualifying session. It qualified for the World Cup and finished 3rd in its maiden competition. Unfortunately, over the next three World Cups, Croatia fell in the group stage each time.
Then, only France could halt the Croatian machine in the Final in Russia 2018. Croatia lost 4-2 in that final.
Croatia brings talent and experience to World Cup 2022
Croatia’s Luka Modric led the side throughout the tournament, earning the Golden Ball for best player. He guides the side into the 2022 World Cup yet again, and likely for the final time.
Croatia’s strength lies in it’s midfield, centered around Modric. This has never been a team that relied on speed nor counter-attacks. It’s a slow buildup and ball control that results in frustration by opponents that Croatia relies upon. Tottenham’s Ivan Perisic and Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic flank the Real Madrid midfielder. More talent, from Mateo Kovacic and Mario Pasalic, join Modric in the midfield.
Croatia’s key question remains up front. Mario Mandzukic was a reliable source of goals at the top of the line. His retirement leaves the door open. Dinamo Zagreb forward Bruno Petkovic likely assumes that role. Andrej Kramaric could step on in Petkovic’s stead, as well, should Petkovic’s form go from hot to cold.
Defensively, Croatia relies on the experience of a couple of 33-year-olds in Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren. Yet, perhaps the side’s best defender is 20-year-old Josko Gvardiol, who plays for RB Leipzig. Remember that name. This is a player already sought after by some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Starting its tournament against Morocco followed by Canada might look like a dream start. However, Croatia has a tendency to overlook “weaker” opponents and bring their A-game for bigger matchups. No opponent should be underestimated at a World Cup. A dominating performance in their opener against Morocco on Nov. 23 could set the stage for a strong tournament.
Talent & Experience
As for the fans, they expect nothing less than this team going all the way and lifting the trophy. That is not meant to be a setup for a disappointment.
If Russia 2018 can prove anything, nothing is impossible for that year’s runner-up. Coach Zlatko Dalic has been in charge now since 2017. He provides a necessary consistency when it comes to coaching a national team. Croatia’s form seemed to have fallen after their success in Russia.
Yet, in the last year, it won its UEFA Nations League Group that included Denmark, Austria and the same French team that beat them in the Final. Croatia will participate in the ‘Final 4’ next summer.
Should Croatia advance out of the Group Stage of the 2022 World Cup, the knockout stages point first to a clash with the likes of Spain, Germany, Japan or Costa Rica. Beyond that, they find themselves on the same side of the bracket as Brazil, Portugal, Serbia, Switzerland, Ghana, Uruguay. Not an easy path but as Croatia showed in 2018, one can reach the Final without winning in 90 minutes as Croatia chiseled their path to the Final via extra time (England) & penalties (Denmark & Russia).
Talent & experience can take a team to great heights. Croatia lacks in neither category and “vatreni” (“fiery”) just might meet their fans expectations in Qatar.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pixsell
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