Factfile on Croatia who are in World Cup Group F:
Best World Cup performance: Runners-up (2018).
Other major honours: None (Euro 1996, 2008 quarter-finalists).
FIFA ranking: 12.
Main clubs: Dinamo Zagreb, Hajduk Split.
How they qualified: Winners of European qualifying Group H.
Coach: Zlatko Dalic – The well-travelled Dalic was a surprise appointment when he took over during 2018 World Cup qualifying, but helped Croatia through the playoffs before a surprise run to the final, where they lost 4-2 to France. He has since helped the team overcome the retirements of several stalwarts, including striker Mario Mandzukic, to see the team qualify for Euro 2020. There were some calls on Dalic to resign after a disappointing 2020-21 UEFA Nations League, but Croatia have bounced back since by qualifying for next year’s finals from a group featuring France and Euro semi-finalists Denmark.
Key player: Luka Modric – The veteran midfielder won the player of the tournament award as he led Croatia to their first ever World Cup final in Russia. He ended Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or in the same year. Modric has showed few signs of slowing down since, winning his fifth Champions League crown with Real Madrid last season. Now aged 37, Qatar will likely be Modric’s last World Cup. The captain has made a record 154 appearances for Croatia.
Expectations and key players according to Davor Petrovic, Index:
“Being the current vice champion of the world means that supporters expect at least the same. Actually, at the beginning of July people were bitter and disappointed because Austria trashed Croatia on the first day of Nations league in Osijek. The match ended 3:0 for the guests, and Croatian goalkeeper Ivica Ivušić was the man of the match. But, in the next five rounds of Nations league Croatia won thirteen points, including first ever victory over France (1:0) and that was enough to launch euphoria in the whole country. Therefore, the supporters expectations are higher than Mount Everest. Of course, Zlatko Dalić and the players know that they must take the World Cup step by step. So, the first goal is to reach the knockout stage without too much turbulence.”
“There’s no need to talk about Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić, who is the backbone of the team, together with fellow midfielders Marcelo Brozović from Inter and Mateo Kovačić from Chelsea, and Tottenham’s left winger Ivan Perišić. Although very young, RB Leipzig’s Joško Gvardiol (20) and Dinamo Zagreb’s Josip Šutalo (22) are considered to be the guarantee of rock solid central defence. The player who could also shine is lucid striker Marko Livaja, who scored 40 goals in the last 58 Croatian championship matches for Hajduk Split.”
November 23: Morocco v Croatia.
November 27: Croatia v Canada.
December 1: Croatia v Belgium.
Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid/ESP).
Defenders: Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens/GRE), Dejan Lovren (Zenit Saint Petersburg/RUS), Borna Barisic (Rangers/SCO), Josip Juranovic (Celtic/SCO), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig/GER), Borna Sosa (Stuttgart/GER), Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich/GER), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo/ITA), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid/ESP), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea/ENG), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan/ITA), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta/ITA), Nikola Vlasic (Torino/ITA), Lovro Majer (Rennes/FRA), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Luka Sucic (RB Salzburg/AUT).
Forwards: Ivan Perisic (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim/GER), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna/ESP), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split).
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