Since gaining independence in 1991, Croatia have made an appearance at the World Cup finals on four occasions, in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2014. They had to reach the finals via play-offs on two of those occasions, 1998 and 2014, and they again had to go to a play-off decider to secure their place in Russia this summer. However, boasting a five from five record in both World Cup and European Championship play-offs, Croatia breezed past Greece with a 4-1 aggregate score. Their qualifying campaign was one of extremes; moments of sublime skill followed by embarrassing carelessness. Coach Zlatko Dalic will have to work with his squad in the following months to develop the consistency that is needed to succeed at a major international tournament such as this.
Croatia have been drawn with Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria in the group stages, and have a difficult task ahead of them this summer if they are looking to progress to the knockout stages of the tournament. Although Argentina can be exposed, Nigeria and Iceland are both strong, physical teams, and Croatia have already been beaten by Iceland in the qualifiers. Much of Croatia’s success at this World Cup will depend on how well the midfield pairing of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric perform.
- Luka Modric (Real Madrid) – A world star, Modric has had an underperforming season with Real Madrid domestically, however he has been instrumental in helping them make their way to the Champions League semi-finals. At his best, Modric dictates the pace of the play from midfield, playing pinpoint cross-field passes to switch the direction of attack. He is a player whose impact in a game is dependent on his confidence; a confidence which may be lacking in the wake of the nation’s fans turning against him after he retracted his original testimony in the corruption trial of one-time Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic.
- Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) – In contrast to Modric, Rakitic has had an outstanding domestic season with Barcelona, yet has been disappointing for them in big games in the Champions League, most recently in the 3-0 loss to Roma which saw them exit the competition at the quarter final stage. He showed in that game that he can be disrupted and knocked off his game by the presence of physical players, a tactic that strong teams like Nigeria and Iceland are sure to look to exploit. However, if he can link up well with Modric, they are Croatia’s best chance at progressing.
Zlatko Dalic – Having been appointed as caretaker manager initially in October 2017, Dalic was officially made permanent the following month. He has a wealth of coaching experience behind him, having spent five years on the coaching staff of the Croatian Under-21s, in addition to managing three Croatian clubs, three Gulf state clubs and one Albanian outfit.