FIFA World Cup 2018: Five reasons why Croatia can shine at the tournament
Ahead of the beginning of World Cup 2018, there has inevitably been heated debate over who will become the champions. All of the usual suspects have been named as front-runners – Brazil, Germany, France, Argentina and Spain among them – but beyond these teams there have been discussions as to the tournament dark horses.
While Belgian have often been cited as a team to watch, Croatia have successfully flown under the radar as one of the most dangerous teams in the competition.
Having attained independence in 1990, they have known tremendous success on the football field in the subsequent years, despite having a population of fewer than 4.5 million.
Undoubtedly their highlight was finishing third at France 1998, which was something of a coming-of-age experience for the nation, with Davor Suker to the fore.
Since then, they have perhaps underachieved a little, having failed to go past the group phase, but they will be confident of doing so this time around.
Here are five reasons why we can expect them to be a threat once more:
#5 Midfield quality
The heartbeat of any team comes from the midfield, and there will be few stronger nations than Croatia in the heart of the park.
Captain Luka Modric has enjoyed another successful season with Real Madrid, who he helped to a third successive Champions League title, while alongside him is Ivan Rakitic, a vital member of the Barcelona squad that romped to the Primera Division title.
Together, they have close to 200 caps as the tournament approaches, and they have been successfully dovetailed by head coach Zlatko Dalic into forming a solid foundation for the national side.
While these two are the star men for their nation, it is the captain who is the undoubted ace.
“You don't have to be a football expert to see that Modric is the key player,” former national team boss Slaven Bilic told Sky Sports. “On and off the pitch he matured and became a leader. He's a captain. He is the main player on the pitch.
“I have had the privilege of working with really good players with Croatia, Besiktas and West Ham but if I had to name one as the best it would be Modric.”
These players will need to match any opponent they come up against for Croatia to function to their maximum, but fortunately for the national team, they are well capable of doing so.