In terms of football nations, Croatia is relatively small compared to many of the teams currently in Russia. However, the Eastern European nation has produced some top players. For me, with the quality player at their disposal, Croatia has underachieved at international tournaments.
However, World Cup 2018 could just be the tournament that the experienced Croatians fulfil their potential. On Thursday night, Zlatko Dalic’s team produced a 3-0 win over South American giants Argentina.
While many criticised Argentina for their poor performance, nothing should be taken away from Croatia’s display. The Eastern European team have now qualified for the knockout stages of the competition after winning both of their group games.
The midfield brains the key
Croatia headed to Russia with one of the most experienced squads in the competition. That experience is none more evident than in the centre of their midfield. Their central midfield pair of Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric are simply brilliant.
The pair do not play their club football with two of the world’s biggest clubs by accident. They are the sort of intelligence and skilful midfielders that would fit into any international team in the world.
While the Argentinian midfielders would struggle to pass water, Croatia’s passing and their control of the central area of the pitch was impressive. This control was down to the two goalscorers.
A sense they lack a goalscorer
Croatia have had a real struggle to score goals in recent years. They have been technically good through the likes Modric, Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, but lacked that prolific presence up front.
Big striker Mario Mandzukic has been relatively prolific in club football, as has Ante Rebic, who scored the opener against Argentina. However, neither has been prolific in the international game. In fact, Rebic’s strike against the South American giants was just his second international goal.
Mandzukic’s record of 30 goals scored in 85 appearances is not a terrible one. However, there is a feeling that if their central striker was just slightly more prolific they would have achieved far more in the last two decades.
However, those concerns have looked unfounded so far in Russia, as they have scored five goals in their first two games. Modric has scored two of those goals, with midfield partner Rakitic and Rebic both also scoring against Argentina.
One factor that negates the forward line not being that prolific is their defence being very solid. The likes of Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida are a very solid defensive partnership for Dalic’s side. Full-backs Vrsaljko and Strinic have also looked strong at the World Cup so far.
Croatia now favourites to top the group
Croatia winning both of their group games so far has put them in pole position to win their group. In fact, Zlatko Dalic’s side are odds of 1/11 to top the group, which would only be a slight surprise considering the talent in their squad.
The Eastern European country seems to have many of the tools to go far in Russia this summer. They have experience, a solid defence and a midfield full of technically gifted players.
One of the few concerns heading into the knockout stages would be that perceived lack of goals. It cost them at Euro 2016, as they failed to score against eventual champions Portugal and suffered a 1-0 extra-time defeat.
However, after their first two displays in Russia, every team knows that Croatia will be tough opponents in the last 16. It looks like Croatia are finally ready to start fulfilling their potential at an international tournament.
How far can Croatia go at Russia 2016?
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!