It seems like yesterday when I was a kid watching Croatia make their World Cup debut in 1998. I remember thinking their checkered jerseys were cool. Combine those sweet uniforms with Davor Šuker’s cheeky skills and I was rooting for Croatia during their magical 3rd place finish. I think there is a great chance that they might match that result in Russia. First, a little information about Croatia.
Despite first appearing as a Duchy in the 7th century, Croatia has been an independent nation since 1991. Croatia is located in eastern Europe and has a population of just under 4.3 million people. Despite being 27 years old, Croatia’s current president is a woman named Kolinda Grabar. She is incredibly smart and very easy on the eyes. So much so, there are lots of fake pictures of her wearing a bikini around the interwebs. Some tabloids even mistook Ice T’s wife, Coco, as Grabar. I may or may not have had to delete at least a paragraph full of puns connecting Croatia’s main cities with how incredible “Grabar” looked.
Croatia is a hidden gem that most people in North America are unfamiliar with. It’s a place known for creating the modern day neck-tie, the speedometer and the mechanical pencil. Most importantly, it is known for their breath taking beaches:
their incredible food:
their women, who, with the exception of their president, are tall, tanned, lean and very friendly. . . if you’re into that kind of thing.
Their women are also good dancers
and their fans have gotten a bit of a bad reputation as of late.
Just like Croatia is an over-looked tourist destination, Croatia’s lesser footy team is being overlooked at this year’s World Cup.
Croatia Nickname: The Blazers
What their nickname should be: 101 Dalmatias, Split Kicks, Picnic Blankets
Head Coach: Zlatko Dalić
FIFA World Ranking: 15
World Cup Kit:
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco),Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo), Karlo Letica (Hajduk), Lovre Kalinic (Gent).
Defenders: Borna Barisic (Osijek), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Matej Mitrovic (Club Brugge), Zoran Nizic (Hajduk), Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg), Borna Sosa (Dinamo).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Marko Rog (Napoli), Mario Pasalic (Spartak), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter).
Strikers: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter), Nikola Kalinic (Milan), Ante Rebic (Eintracht), Duje Cop (Standard Liege), Ivan Santini (Caen), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Schalke)
Look at that roster. This team is pretty stacked, particularly at midfield. Marko Rog is coming off the bench and this guy could easily start on most of the other teams. Even if you don’t recognize the names, you will recognize the names of the clubs these guys play for. With this being the last World Cup for most of Croatia’s Golden and greatest generation, I expect them to go deep into this tournament.
So you might be wondering why Croatia is an underdog and not one of the top four or five teams expected to win. There are two causes for concern that most pundits point out. First, they looked inconsistent when they placed second in UEFA’s Group I World Cup qualification. Iceland, who is also in group D, placed first. However, while Croatia struggled in Group I, that group was essentially the Group of Death because they were grouped with Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine. All those teams are good enough to qualify. Furthermore, while Iceland placed first in the group, head to head, Croatia is 4 wins 1 draw and 1 loss against them with a 12:2 goal differential. To suggest Iceland is the clear favorite against Croatia for second place seems like a stretch. Also, since Dalić has taken over head coaching duties in late 2017, Croatia has played significantly better.
Second, pundits point out that nobody really knows who is managing the squad. Most Croatian fans hate the federation because politicians are involved, to the detriment of everyone. There are internal power struggles that is arguably affecting the team’s play on the field. Essentially, many claim the manager is a puppet to executives behind the scenes, which is creating problem for all involve. However, as you can tell by the club names these players play for, they are used to behind the scenes politicking. This concern is over-rated and the head coaching incompetence may have been resolved.
This is a team that can win Group D. While talented, Argentina qualified for the World cup based on a Messi miracle. Given that Argentina’s #1 goalie is now out for the tournament with an injury, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Argentina doesn’t make it out of the group stage. They’re very beatable. As already mentioned, Croatia has a winning head-to-head record against Iceland–who has also lost the element of surprise. No team is going to take them lightly. Additionally, while Nigeria is talented, their best players are old and/or playing in China and the rest of the team is not as good. Plus,nthere’s always some sort of dysfunction off the field with African clubs. Usually, it has to do with not receiving wages.
Even if Argentina goes with the script and wins the group, Croatia still places second and matches well against les Frogs. This is a team that no one is going to want to play. I think they make it to the semifinals.
/narrator voice: They didn’t make it out of the group stage.