It was tough, but Croatia secured their ticket to Russia after beating Greece in a play-off. It will be the Balkan nation’s sixth appearance at a World Cup, having also taken part in 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2014. Only in 2010 did they fail to qualify, the result of a thrashing by England in qualifying.
The national team contains familiar faces. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic own the centre of midfield, but Croatia are still searching for the player who can grant them the freedom to roam forward and show their potential. Badelj will probably play that role, but Brozovic is also a possible occupant. In the last few matches, Zlatko Dalic has opted to play Modric in a more advanced position with Rakitic dictating play from deeper.
Simo Vrsaljko has established himself as a key cog in this Croatian team. The play is built from his side of the pitch. From there, the other pieces of the attacking puzzle fall in to place, or the Atlético Madrid full-back launches an attack himself.
Andre Kramaric has made a big impact since coming in to the team. He emerged at Rijeka as a conventional ‘9’, but under the tutelage of Julien Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim he can now fulfil a range of attacking roles. Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic will need to be in form if Croatia are to go far in Russia.
|Preferred system: 4-2-3-1
The draw against Finland was the straw that broke the camel’s back for previous coach Ante Cacic. The Croatian FA drafted in Dalic as an emergency measure to secure passage to Russia. He excelled in charge of the United Arab Emirates and has made a fine start in charge of Croatia. Results against Ukraine and Greece have injected fresh confidence in to a team that was threatening to fall apart.
|Edad: 32 años
|Club: Real Madrid
|Height: 170 cm
|Weight: 65 kg
Luka Modric is not in the best form of his career, but he remains the engine of this Croatia side. Croatia play to his rhythm when he conducts; they impose themselves on matches. Dalic has played Modric in a more advanced position in an attempt to mask the deficiencies in his game. The pressure on Modric to lead this generation of Croatian players, with the crop of ’98 as a example, is strong.