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Croatia are a sleeping giant but have a midfield to rival any at the World Cup

Croatia arrive in Russia with a squad packed full of household names

Oh check you out, backing Germany, Brazil or Spain to win the World Cup.

How original.

In the build-up to the World Cup we’re going to be taking a look at the dark horses.

And once we’re done at the stables, we’re going to write articles about the teams with an outside chance of Doing a Madness™ in Russia.


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Next up, it’s everyone’s ‘second team,’ Croatia.

Squad goals

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Squad goals

A squad jam-packed full of mouthwatering midfield talent, Zlatko Dalic has options in the centre of the pitch that Gareth Southgate could only dream of.

Do they have Jake Livermore though? Exactly, that’s what I thought.

Pause your Davor Suker compilation and go fetch your Hajduk Split goalkeeper shirt from 1992, as we tell you all there is to know about this latest batch of Croatian superstars

How will they lineup and are they worth watching?

Croatia played in a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout much of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

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Monaco’s Danijel Subasic established himself between the sticks after he conceded just twice in eight qualifiers. Cat like stuff.

An experienced defence forms the foundations of the side, with Domoagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren (yes, we know), having a combined 94 international caps between them.

Iconic photo. Lovren AND Fred… where can I get this blown up x1000 and mounted on my wall?!

AFP
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Iconic photo. Lovren AND Fred… where can I get this blown up x1000 and mounted on my wall?!

Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic and Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic will form a midfield pivot, providing the base for Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to work their magic further forward.

Rakitic, who is a regular in the centre for Barcelona, will find himself deployed from a right-sided midfield position, with license to roam inside and cause havoc.

Ivan Perisic will provide support from the left for Mario Mandzukic, with the Juventus man unlikely to the starved of chances in such a creative eleven.

“Thanks for the assist, Luka. The first round is on me tonight!”

Getty Images - Getty
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“Thanks for the assist, Luka. The first round is on me tonight!”

Who should we be looking out for and are there any familiar faces?

Everywhere you look there are unbelievable names in the side, with Modric the little Croatian cherry on top of the cake.

The Real Madrid man consistently performs at the highest level and will be wearing the armband for Croatia at the tournament.

Absolute legend

EPA
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Absolute legend

The diminutive midfielder was just 20-years-old when he made his international debut and now has over 100 caps to his name.

Marcelo Brozovic may not be a household name just yet, but the Inter man could really announce himself to the rest of the footballing world this summer.

Gloves and short sleeves?! Don’t show this to Yer Da

AFP or licensors
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Gloves and short sleeves?! Don’t show this to Yer Da

The midfield enforcer can do a bit of everything from the centre of the pitch and has had another impressive season in Serie A.

Brozovic’s tally of four goals and nine assists helped Inter get back into the Champions League after a six-year absence.

Perisic could well find himself at the centre of another transfer storm, should he have an impressive World Cup.

Jose Mourinho would ruin him as a player

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Jose Mourinho would ruin him as a player

The Inter Milan winger flirted with a move to Man United last summer and had yet another good season in Serie A, scoring 11 times and getting the same number of assists.

Perisic has 64 caps for his country, scoring an impressive 17 goals from out wide.

Just like your favourite series on Netflix, or that clip of a bird sh**ting in Ashley Young’s mouth, Perisic just seems to get better the more you watch.

Now 29-years-old, this could be his last World Cup where we see him at his marauding best.

What a really cool haircut, wow! Amazing!

EPA
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What a really cool haircut, wow! Amazing!

Mandzukic is only beaten to the accolade of Croatia’s all-time top scorer by the GOAT, Suker.

The Juventus man has 30 goals to his name in 82 appearances for his country, and will come to Russia with a point to prove.

The towering striker has spent much of this season playing out of position, in order to accommodate Gonzalo Higuain.

Scores for fun

AFP or licensors
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Scores for fun

He will however lead the line for Croatia this summer, hoping to show that he can be the focal point for Juventus next season.

Mandzukic announced himself on the world stage back at Euro 2012 and earned himself a move to Bayern Munich after his goal-scoring antics.

He ended the tournament as the top goalscorer, granted, he did only score three times and was joint with five other players… still impressive though.

“Let me go! I want to play with the flares FFS.”

Getty Images - Getty
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“Let me go! I want to play with the flares FFS.”

What is their recent tournament history and how did they qualify for Russia?

Recent history doesn’t reflect too kindly on Croatia.

They haven’t made an impact at a major tournament since they finished 3rd at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Feel like pure s**t, just want them back

AP:Associated Press
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Feel like pure s**t, just want them back

World Cup

2002/2006: Group stages.

2010: Failed to qualify.

2014: Group stages.

Euros

2004: Group stages.

2008: Quarter-finals.

2012: Group stages.

2016: Round of 16.

They were beaten by eventual champions Portugal in 2016

Getty Images - Getty
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They were beaten by eventual champions Portugal in 2016

They won six, drew two and lost two in qualifying for Russia, scoring a par 15 goals but having the best defensive record in the group, conceding just four times in ten games. Solid.


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They finished runners-up by Iceland (CLAP, CLAP), who will be waiting for them again in their group in Russia.

Is 2018 suited to them?

Croatia, ranked 18th in the world, have been drawn alongside Argentina in group D, in what is being billed as the generic ‘group of death.’

Clashes with the group’s other residents, Nigeria and Iceland, will prove crucial if they are to progress to the knockout stages.

‘If you’re gonna win the World Cup, clap your hands’

AP:Associated Press
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‘If you’re gonna win the World Cup, clap your hands’

If they finish runners up to Argentina, then Didier Deschamps’ France are the likely opponents for Modric and co in the round of 16.

A win against Les Bleus would give Dalic’s side the confidence that they can go all the way in Russia.

Any other reasons to be optimistic?

The talent in the side is too good to continue failing to compete, surely?

Dalic will hope that this will finally be the tournament where his squad oozing with talent, all gel and play to their undoubted potential.

Some say that he’s better than Pep

Reuters
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Some say that he’s better than Pep

The hopes they do have of upsetting the odds will fall heavily on the shoulders of the midfielder and forwards.

A defence which looks slightly suspect on paper, despite their impressive clean-sheet record during qualifiers, could prove to be their achilles heel.

If Modric and Rakitic can create enough, with Mandzukic and Perisic avoiding injury, we could well see Croatia causing some major sides trouble in Russia.

Are you going to report the bloke on the left? Or should I?

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Are you going to report the bloke on the left? Or should I?

Are they worth a punt?

You can back Croatia at an enticing 33/1 with SunBets.

*Resumes Suker compilation.*


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