Croatia's potential for the World Cup

By James Vost

Croatia have come out of the blocks in the World Cup, winning their opening game 2-0 against Nigeria before facing their hardest challenge yet against an experienced Argentina side and coming out well on top.

Their first goal of the tournament came from a corner and was put in the back of the net by Nigerian defender Oghenekaro Etebo (own goal).

A cool and calm penalty from the captain Modric saw Croatia ease into first place of group D as Iceland held Argentina to a draw thanks to a simple finish from Alfreo Finnbogason.

They then went on to face an Argentina side that came second back in Brazil four years ago. It was a promising start for both teams, with Enzo Perez missing an open goal for the Argentinians and Mario Mandzukic putting a header wide, but it was Croatia who scored first thanks to a wrongly placed pass from Willy Caballero which was finished by winger Ante Rebic. Modric made it 2-0 and yet again continued to shine by scoring a sublime longshot which puts him on six goals for the season. In the dying moments of the game Rakitic made it 3-0 and left his Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi distraught with just one shot on target the whole game.

It’s been 20 years since they have successfully made it into the knockout stages but the last time they progressed from the group stage they made it to the semi finals, losing 2-1 to a dominant French team who went on to win the tournament. It wasn't all heartbreak for Croatia as they won the third place play-off tie against the Netherlands 2-1, with the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf and Marc Overmars in the Dutch ranks.

So what has changed since the disappointment in Brazil four years ago? Croatia have improved a lot over the four years. Mario Mandzukic, who scored a beauty against Real Madrid in the 2017 Champions league final, has became a star man and gained a lot of experience. Luka Modric has progressed into more of an attacking role in recent years and has became a reliable unit for Real Madrid. Croatia also have a prolific attacking winger in Ivan Perisic who has scored 11 and assisted nine in the Serie A this season. Not to mention the architect Ivan Rakitic, who has reached the top at Barcelona across the four years he’s been there.

Why could this year be Croatia’s? They have shown that they are a team not to be messed with, often playing in the 4-2-3-1 formation with either Mandzukic or Kalinic being the target man, with Perisic and Rebic creating the space out wide to receive the passes from Modric and Rakitic with defender Domagoj Vida at the back providing strength next to the powerful Dejan Lovren.

With all these skills and assets, I don’t see why they should be ruled out as contenders for world football’s biggest prize.

Paul Harper