The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Croatia

Croatia National Team

Croatia Vatreni

Vatreni

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Croatia

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 6-2-2
Current FIFA World Ranking (May 2018) – 18th
World Cup 2014 Finish – 1st Round
Russia 2018 Group D (Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria)
Formation – 4-2-3-1
Strengths – Possession, World Class Talent
Weaknesses – Defense, Pressure,
Major Threats – Kramaric, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Mandzukic

The Croatian national team prepare for Russia with hopes of living up to potential and bringing the cup home. For (The Vatreni) the goals are simple.
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Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

If you speak to any Croatian fan, you’ll eventually hear a story about the team from 98’, who placed third in France. Fans have been waiting for the next generation of players to bring that euphoria of winning back, and many believe this is the team to do it. Stacked with notable world class talent and a new coach, this team knows it could be there last opportunity at a serious run for the Cup. For our players, the goal is simple: bring home the Cup, and be the team that every fan talks about. The HNS will be more realistic than the fans though, they’ll expect this team to match the semi-final showing of that ’98 side.


DEFENSE:

In the past 3 years Croatia has had difficulty assembling a formidable back four. Injuries, leadership, and inexperience have been the crux of the problem, and there has yet to be a consistent lineup set in the past 5 games. Despite having veteran leadership, young talent, and a few big names, the lack of consistency in the center of the park is what is the most worrisome. Coach Dalic will have to choose between the pairing of Dejan Lovren, Vedran Corluka, or Domagoj Vida. At face value, Corluka and Lovren would be the obvious answers, but Corluka has only had 8 appearances this season and Lovren is always susceptible to questionable performances. My guess is that Dalic takes a calculated risk with Vida and Lovren, preferring recent form and pace over experience and leadership. For the wings, Dalic will most likely start off with Vrsaljko and Strinic. Both players are formidable in their ability to provide support to the wings in attack, but Strinic may have some difficulty in dealing with pace. Dalic may look at one of his younger players to replace Strinic, like Jedvaj or Pivaric, but their inexperience may do more harm than good.

Since Dalic is a new coach, we don’t really know what his defensive strategy will be. Croatia’s most successful teams consisted of strong center backs who were the heart and soul of the team, and their wing backs were always a threat to an opposing defense. If Croatia can get quality balls into the box, Mandzukic’s ability within 10 yards is second to none, and it’s extremely important for them to leverage that against a stronger but smaller team like Argentina. If the Vatreni can grab the lead first, the defense has a much better chance of being able to hold that lead. The biggest weakness will come through counter attacks and pace. Argentina are going to look to expose Lovren and Vida with their quick passing, and a team like Nigeria is going expose the lack of pace and dependency on the wings with a lot of counters.

Outside of that, Dalic is going to field Daniel Subasic in goal. Lovre Kalinic has had an amazing year at club level and internationally, but it will be hard to see him come near goal. While not the most athletic or the most convincing at times, Subasic has been pretty consistent at always keeping Croatia in the game.

MIDFIELD

Modric, Rakitic, Kovacic, Perisic, Brozovic, and Badelj. If you’ve been watching soccer at all this year, I could probably just tell you those names and you wouldn’t really need to read anymore.

This is the strongest midfield Croatia has ever fielded, and that’s saying a lot when you look back and see names like Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, and Aljosa Asanovic. With all that talent, you would expect this team to finish first in their qualifying round, but in the past 8 years they haven’t had a consistent goal scoring striker or a coach that knew how to play them correctly. For the last 5 games, Dalic has played a 4-2-3-1 formation and seems to have found something with the trio of Kramaric, Modric, and Perisic. Intended or not, he’s also shown that Rakitic and Brozovic provide more value in the defensive midfield. Croatia loves to play the ball through the wings, but there were always issues on how to make Modric and Rakitic the most effective. With this system, Modric worries less about having to track back and puts more emphasis on his vision and ability to create. Pair that with the speed and ability of Perisic and Kramaric who have the option of Mandzukic in the middle or the ability to slip their defender and tuck in for a shot. In the build up, Modric also has confidence in recycling the ball back to Brozovic and Rakitic who can either get him the ball in open space, play off the wings, or look for a ball over the defense.

While the talent is abundant, our problem will always come down to placement and tactics. It’s like having a garage full of Ferraris without knowing how to drive stick. No matter how good the talent is, it’s not going to reach its full potential if you don’t know how to use it. Against Argentina, Dalic needs to use a true defensive midfielder, like Badelj, over Brozovic. While defensively gifted, Badelj doesn’t possess the same explosiveness and vision that Brozovic brings, which puts more pressure on the front four. If we’re in a situation where we need to score, Dalic will most likely look to Kovacic which will leave the defense much more susceptible to getting caught out.

Passing and possession have never been a problem for Croatia, but scoring has. If the midfield chemistry isn’t sorted, we might see a repeat of the last World Cup. Luckily, Dalic seems to have figured things out, and he can always look to young talent on the bench to provide a spark in games where creativity is lacking.

Luka Modric of Croatia

OSIJEK, CROATIA – MARCH 23: Luka Modric of Croatia in action during the International Friendly match between Croatia and Israel at stadium Gradski Vrt on March 23, 2016 in Osijek, Croatia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

STRIKERS

Mario Mandzukic has been the premier forward for Croatia, usually performing well in big tournaments. His ability within the box was crucial for Croatia, but it soon became the only thing they depended on. While former coaches lacked creativity in attack, Dalic has brought a different dynamic to the attacking core in providing multiple threats to the opposing defense. Perisic and Kramaric are able to attack the wings with speed, vision, and ability the ability to beat multiple defenders. The threat from those two, allows Mandzukic more time and space in the center of the field to act as a pivot or finish balls in the air. Now an opposing defense will have to commit to either covering Mandzukic, or having to worry about the scoring abilities of Perisic and Kramaric who have both shown amazing form at the club level.

While many of Croatia’s goals have come from Mandzukic in past tournaments, I expect more goals to be coming from Perisic, Kramaric, and maybe even Modric. Dalic will stick to what has worked in the past, and swing balls into the area for Mandzukic, but Perisic and Kramaric are going to have more freedom to create opportunities. If they can translate their club form onto an international stage, than Mandzukic will be cleaning up a lot of tap in goals this summer.

GAME by GAME (Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland)

*Keys to Nigeria game: Will the team treat this game as a final or fiendly? The Vatreni have always had issues closing out games against ‘lesser’ opponents. The speed, strength, and energy Nigeria will bring to this game is going to cause the team fits. It’s up to our defense to keep their head on their shoulders, and our forwards to score early and often. We know Croatia will win the possession battle, but can they handle the counter attack and can they finish against a parked bus?
Prediction: 2-0 Croatia

*Keys to Argentina game: Will the defense hold against Messi? Croatia always play well against big name teams, because the players come mentally prepared to fight a war. The only problem with this war, is that Messi can wipe out an entire army in seconds. Croatia needs to be incredibly physical defensively, midfield needs to provide additional support to defenders, and our forwards need to finish when they get scoring opportunities.
Prediction: 1-1

*Keys to Iceland game: Will the Iceland’s physicality cost us points? Will we come out with any points? If we do come out with points, how many injuries will we have? The cinderella story played out for Iceland in the Euros, and Croatia need to come in with the mentality of an underdog by either matching the physicality or playing a smarter game. Similar to Nigeria, it comes down to the mental aspect when the first whistle blows, and being able to stifle any hopes Iceland may have with consistent offensive pressure. If Croatia do go up early, it’s also up to the defense to maintain composure and not get themselves into trouble when things start to get ugly on the pitch.
Prediction: 2-1 Croatia

Croatia world cup squad

Croatia World Cup 23

Here’s the possible Croatian Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Danijel Subasic, Lovre Kalinic, Dominik Livakovic

DEFENDERS (8): Vedran Corluka, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic, Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Josip Pivaric, Tin Jedvaj, Matej Mitrovic

MIDFIELDERS (6): Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Milan Badelj, Marcelo Brozovic, Filip Bradaric

FORWARDS (6): Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, Nikola Kalinic, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Pjaca, Ante Rebic

Piece by Matt Lebo, lead honcho at croatiansports.com and avowed master of everything Vatreni. Wanna know anything about Croatia? Hit him up, hit him up.

 

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About the author: Matt Lebo

 

Website: http://www.croatiansports.com

 

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