FIFA World Cup Prospectus: Croatia
For the next 32 days, I will countdown the remaining time leading up to the World Cup with a 32-day preview of each team that will be participating. For those of you who want to know each team inside and out, the 32-Day 2014 FIFA World Cup Prospectus is the World Cup preview. If you think my comments or opinions about a certain team is incorrect, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will respond to your questions on a mailbag post before the first day of the World Cup.
Previous World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006
FIFA Ranking: 20
How Did They Get Here?
After finishing second place in their first round qualifying group, Croatia lucked out facing Iceland in a playoff. Croatia advanced by winning 2-0 in the second leg after a scoreless draw in the first leg.
Opponents (Match Date): Brazil (6/12), Cameroon (6/18), Mexico (6/23)
Group Prediction: Second
Why Finish In Second?
They don’t look like a team that can beat Brazil, and with their star striker Mario Mandkuzic suspended for one match, they’re guaranteed not to. However, Super Mario will be back to add to Cameroon and Mexico’s misery. Croatia is helped by the fact that they boast one of the most creative players in the midfield, Luka Modric. Mexico and Cameroon on the other hand are weak in the midfield department and will resort to defensive tactics to stop whatever tricks Modric and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic have up their sleeves. Croatia will simply dominate the possession. When a team dominates possession, they’ll take a lot of shots. A lot of shots should produce a goal or two, especially with the talent Croatia boasts up top.
How They Can Escape The Group:
Croatia should aim to draw with Brazil so that there would be no pressure for them to beat Cameroon and Mexico. If they do lose to Brazil and the likes of Mexico wins their first match against Cameroon and draws with Brazil, that’ll lead to tough must-win scenario. Croatia should aim to make their group run easy so they won’t be emotionally taxed by the knockout stages.
Grading Each Position:
Back in the 2008 Euros, Stipe Pletikosa was considered one of the best goalkeepers in Europe (Well, actually the world because they aren’t any good keepers outside of Europe). His name came up several times in conversations amongst football analysts and players, but that was eight long years ago. The great thing about goalkeepers is that their skills don’t regress significantly with age. Croatia should be content with who they have at their post.
Croatia’s defense isn’t as open as a revolving door, but by European standards they aren’t that stable. Head coach Niko Kovac will likely start Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s Ivan Strinic at left-back, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Darijo Srna at right-back, Southampton’s Dejan Lovren and Panathinaiko’s Gordon Schildenfeld at center-back. These guys aren’t anything special on the defensive end. It feels like these guys were brought onto their clubs just to fill up an open spot on defense. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t good. They’re just OK (by European standards) and maybe for the group stage OK is good enough.
PROS: Croatia’s midfield is capable of initiating a dangerous ball into the box. CONS: Despite above average passing from the likes of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic, they’re pretty weak in holding possession. It’s quite possible (even likely) that Kovac will opt for a 4-3-3 formation and plays Modric and Rakitic in the central midfield and put Dynamo Kyiv’s Ognjen Vukojevic in the defensive midfield position. If 4-4-2 diamond ever does happen, I’d shift Modric and Rakitic to the left and right midfield respectively and put Wolfsburg’s Ivan Perisic in the attacking midfield. As a 4-4-2 purist, I prefer if Croatia did play like that. Likely won’t happen though.
It’s a darn shame Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic aka Super Mario* will be suspended for the Brazil match, but it’s not like Croatia had a solid chance at upsetting the home team did they? Croatia could only hope to tie with Brazil and unleash Mandzukic on Mexico and Cameroon and advance to the knockout round with a second place finish. With the 4-3-3 likely to happen, Mandzukic could play center forward while Wolfsburg’s Ivica Olic and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Eduardo da Silva can play inside attacker from the right and left, respectively. This might be one of the most underrated frontlines in the World Cup. I’m giving this group of players a well-deserved high mark.
*It’s a common practice in Europe to name every player named Mario after the Italian plumber. Makes you wonder though if Mario Gotze’s unhappiness at Bayern stemmed from the fact that the nickname wasn’t big enough for the two of them.
Like their group rivals Mexico, Croatia hired Niko Kovac back in October after firing their previous manager Igor Stimac for unimpressive results during qualifying. Stimac pretty much stripped all confidence from Croatia by experimenting too much with formations during their qualifying run which led to inconsistent performance from the team. Kovac was hired after going 5-0 in the Croatia’s U-21 run in the 2015 UEFA European U-21 championship qualifying run. Despite his proud accomplishment, that’s still relatively not enough proof that Kovac is the right manager for the World Cup team. Kovac lucked out in being drawn with Iceland for the qualifying playoff match.
It’s safe to say that given Kovac’s young age and the fact he’s only five years removed from playing, he’s likely a players’ coach; the type of manager who can connect with the players on a personal level and give them some power in running the team. Kovac is still too unproven and we’ll see by Croatia’s performance at the World Cup whether he is a solid manager or a poor one. Fourth place will earn him an “F or D.” Second will merit him a “B” since that’s where the team’s expected to go. First place should earn him an “A” and a potential job offer to a top European club after his contract with Croatia runs out.
Grade: C- for now
How Can They Win The World Cup?
The forwards have very little margin of error with their chances once they enter the knockout rounds. Luka Modric and Rakitic must stay healthy and fit for the duration of the tournament while the three forwards up top efficiently convert the chances they’re given. If the match is tied in the dying minutes or the Croatians are down by a goal, expect Olic to come up clutch* like he always has in big matches. Olic will somehow score in every tight game in the World Cup, making his name on the list of World Cup legends alongside Salvatore Schillaci. I even came up with a nickname for him just in case his superb form catches on. OLACCI!!!
*For NBA fans, Olic is the Robert Horry of Croatian soccer.
What’s There To Like About Croatia?
Lets just forget the fact that Croatian soccer fans and some players have done pretty racist crap in recent times. We want to highlight what’s good about the people and the country. Not every fan is racist and majority of Croatia look down at the nationalistic activities that have plagued their country’s reputation. Croatia’s fans are quite amazing and provide an intimidating atmosphere for the opponents. Imagine playing football against the Croatians and you find yourself surrounded by a sea of red-and-white checkered shirts jeering against you and cheering your opponents. The color itself is a distraction.
It is said that Croatia was one of the first European countries to open up nude beaches. I’ve researched this and all I can say is contrary to whatever image pops in your head, it’s not like Baywatch. If you plan to visit, do it just to get a tan.
The home kit is still their traditional red-and-white checker patterns while the away kit is blue with the checkered patterns on the sleeves. The shirts look great to wear at games, but recommended to not wear casually.