One of the game’s great midfield talents of this generation, Luka Modric, will play in surely his last Fifa World Cup and lead his Croatia side hoping to replicate the feats of Russia 2018, where they reached the final.
Ivan Rakitic is no longer at Modric’s side, Sime Vrsaljko has retired and Ante Rebic has been jettisoned from the squad, but Modric will be able to turn to the likes of Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic as capable and experienced campaigners to push Croatia through Group F.
There, Canada and Morocco will provide the most important opponents – the fourth side are Belgium, widely expected to top the group with some ease – so Zlatko Dalic’s side have to hit the ground running and produce good results from their first two games in Qatar. Positivity comes from their Nations League results; after a slow start they won four in a row to win Group A1 ahead of Denmark, France and Austria, including a 1-0 victory in Saint-Denis. Modric, of course, was the difference-maker there.
Despite the strength and skill the team still possess in the centre of the park though, other areas of the team have perhaps not quite kept up, leaving them hoping that togetherness and familiarity can be a proxy for having a reliable, clinical touch in front of goal. Croatia scored eight times in the Nations League with seven different scorers – that’s something they’ll need to either continue to do, or find a more consistent face in the final third for just a few weeks.
Often exciting to watch and still with some elite talents in the team, Croatia are nonetheless left somewhat lacking in both penalty boxes which will, ultimately, probably frustrate their hopes of another deep run at the finals.
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures (all times GMT)
Wednesday 23 November: Morocco vs Croatia – 10:00
Sunday 27 November: Croatia vs Canada – 16:00
Thursday 1 December: Croatia vs Belgium – 15:00
Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid)
Defenders: Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens), Dejan Lovren (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Borna Sosa (Stuttgart), Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Nikola Vlasic (Torino), Lovro Majer (Rennes), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Luka Sucic (Red Bull Salzburg)
Forwards: Ivan Perisic (Tottenham), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split)
Ones to watch
Star – Luka Modric: No surprises he’s the one who will still count the most. A schemer, ball-winner, carrier, determined leader and absolute icon of the modern game, he has now won over 150 caps and is still going as strongly as ever. He’s a regular match-decider for Real Madrid still; he’ll have to go above and beyond for Croatia if they are to go far this winter.
Breakout talent – Lovro Majer: An excellent player who Croatia haven’t quite found the perfect role for yet in their chosen set-up. The busy Rennes playmaker tends to play more in midfield at club level but narrow right side in attack for the national team. His vision and weight of pass is extremely good but they’ll need him to find consistency and perhaps a more keen eye for goal in that position too.
It’s actually a very tricky group they find themselves in – Belgium will be favorites to finish top, but after that each of the three nations will feel they have reason to believe they can progress. The very first match against Morocco will be crucial; Dalic’s side can overpower the midfield zone and dominate play that way, but finding a cutting edge in tight matches is where Croatia will live or die at the finals. They cannot solely rely on Ivan Perisic to create and score and others must step up to progress out the group. If they do, it only gets harder from then on. Knocked out in the last 16 by Spain.
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