Croatia head into this summer’s World Cup in Russia as once again dangerous outsiders. The Eastern European nation has qualified for four of the last five World Cup finals tournaments since their admission to FIFA as an independent country back in 1993.
Their most successful World Cup finals was also their first, as a talented team of the likes of Davor Suker, Slaven Bilic and Zvonimir Boban helped the nation to a third-place finish in France ’98.
Good quality players
Croatian football has grown a lot in recent years, as the country has produced another talented generation of players. The likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are fine midfield players, who play for Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.
Then there is Inter winger Ivan Perisic, who seems to shine brightest in the biggest games for his country.
In fact, the bulk of their squad plies their trade in Europe’s top leagues, such as La Liga, the Premier League, Serie A and the Bundesliga. There is certainly no shortage of quality in Zlatko Dalic’s squad.
Not lived up to expectations
Despite having talented squads of players for the last two decades, Croatia seems to fail to live up to expectations at big international tournaments. It is like some sort of mental block when it comes producing on the big stage.
At Euro 2016, many were talking about Croatia as potential dark horses to lift the trophy in France. However, they exited the competition meekly against eventual champions Portugal.
Four years ago in Brazil, they exited the World Cup at the group stage, which was another disappointing result for a country with such talented players. The fact that 1998 is the only World Cup finals that Croatia have Actually made it out of the group is a travesty. No doubt, they will be looking for a better result this time around.
Must make the knockout stages this time around
Croatia are in Group D at this summer’s World Cup alongside group favourites Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria. The Argentinians are obviously the favourites to make it to the knockout stages. However, the fact that the South American giants tend to fail to live up to expectations at big international tournaments will always give other teams a chance of capitalising.
Even if the Argentinians are on form, then the runners-up spot in the group is very achievable. Iceland cannot be written off, as the Nordic nation finished above the Croats in qualifying.
They will certainly be no pushovers, while African nation Nigeria are highly unpredictable. Some even inside their camp believe that the Super Eagles lack organisation, but have highly talented players.
Croatia seems to be the perennial underachievers of the international game. Ranked 20th in the world at the minute, the talented squad of players should make an impact in Russia.
Dalic and his team have a golden opportunity this summer to finally get out of the group stage and stop underperforming on the world’s biggest football stage.
Can Croatia make the group stages of the World Cup?