World Cup 2018: Will Croatia’s new golden generation beat Les Bleus in the final?
A country born out of the splitting of Yugoslavia, Croatia is rewriting history after 1998. Croatia is the single team left that has neither lost nor drawn any game in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In this context, it would be wise to remember their golden generation, led by smooth engine Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker.
It has been two decades since Croatia has performed their best in World Cup (Bronze medal in 1998 FIFA World Cup). After Mandzukic scored in the 109th minute against England to complete a remarkable comeback for a shattered Croatian team, he has taken the small nation of a little more than four million people into the World Cup final for the first time.
Here's a look at Croatia's performances throughout the World Cup 2018:
The Group Stage
The Croatians started with such fluidity and magic that you would not be laughed at if you thought that they were one of the tournament favourites. In their first match, they humiliated Nigeria 2-0 with an own goal by Nigerian defender Etebo, and a beautiful penalty from their skipper Luka Modric.
Their next match with 2014 finalists and one of the favourites of the tournament --the Messi led Argentina, was such an iconic performance as Croatia’s midfield duo Modric and Rakitic blasted Argentina with a scoreline 3-0. A beautifully bent long ranger from Modric pierced into Argentine’s goal mouth.
After ensuring the pre-quarter berth, Croatia shook up their bench squad against Iceland and came back victorious by an excellent score of 2-1. Badelj's earlier strike for Croatia was equalised by Sigurdsson’s penalty. It was a late strike from Ivan Perisic that made them the group champions without losing any game.
Round of 16
Croatia faced Denmark in their Round of 16 clash, where Croatia advanced into quarter-finals by outlasting Denmark in the shootout. Denmark, considered as underdogs went ahead in the very first minute by Mathias Jorgensen. Three minutes later, Croatia’s Mandzukic squirmed a shot and scored while Denmark defenders failed to clear the ball inside the penalty area.
With four minutes left at extra time, Croatia got a penalty and had the opportunity to win the game. While Modric’s penalty kick was not strong, Schmeichel came up with a huge save which lead the game into spot kicks.
Penalty shootout turned into a display of goalkeeper’s craft, where both of them blocked two out of the first four kicks. Jorgensen’s last bid was saved by Subasic whereas Ivan Rakitic, the Barcelona star kicked the ball to goal and Croatia cleared it to make the quarter-finals. Thus, Croatia booked their place in quarters with the tournament hosts, Russia.
Croatia ended Russia’s World Cup dream when they won 4-3 on penalties. Denis Cheryshev gave Russia an unexpected lead with a wide range thunderbolt from his left foot, his fourth goal of the tournament, whereas Andrej Kramaric headed for Croatia to level the score before half-time.
Croatia’s Vida scored a beautiful header in the eleventh minute of extra time, but Russia was not in a mood to give up the host's chances. With five minutes of play remaining, through a stunning header from their right back Fernandes, they came back into the game. Ivan Rakitic again fired the winning penalty to send Croatia into the semi-finals against one of the tournament favourites, England.
Croatia advanced to their first World Cup final with a 2-1 semi-final win over England. Kieran Trippier’s free-kick within five minutes gave England a dream start to the semi-final but Croatia pierced their way back into the match when Ivan Perisic equalised with a beautiful volley.
Mandzukic reacted very fast to Perisic’s header and scored a decisive goal in the 109th minute and sent Croatia into their first ever World Cup Final. Croatia will face young and energetic France in the finale of the tournament.
France and Croatia will face off in the World Cup final, in a clash that would be loaded with talent and energy. Les Blues, who have young stars like Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, at the top of the midfield will be led by one of the best central defensive midfielders in the world, N’Golo Kante alongside Paul Pogba. They will face Modric and Rakitic, the top-tier midfielders who are better in attack than France.
This golden generation of Croatia thus has a good chance to become the world champions. The finale will be a clash for independent awards, where Atletico Madrid’s Griezmann and Real Madrid’s Modric are in contention for the Golden Ball, with both the team's goalkeepers being in the Golden Glove competition.