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2018 World Cup: Croatia


Croatia burst onto the scene at the 1998 World Cup in France, having previously been part of the former Yugoslavia. 

With world class players including Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban, Croatia reached the semi-final of the tournament and eventually finished in third place.

However, they have struggled since then and have failed to progress from the group stages in their three attempts since, winning just 2 of their 9 games.  The 2018 World Cup draw has not been kind and Croatia could face another uphill task to reach the knockout stages in Russia.

Qualification for the 2018 World Cup was not easy and Croatia were drawn in a group containing Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine.  Croatia were the favourites to win the group but were forced to settle for second place and entered the playoffs.

Croatia played Greece and had little problem in winning the home leg of the tie 4-1 before holding the Greeks to a 0-0 draw to claim a place at the World Cup.

Interestingly, the draw has once again been unfavourable for Croatia and they will meet Iceland in Russia, as they did in the qualifying campaign but will also play Argentina and Nigeria.  This has been labelled the ‘group of death’ and it’s certainly going to prove tricky, not only for Croatia but every team involved.

There is plenty of talent in the Croatia squad and many teams in the World Cup would love to have a midfield containing Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.  Playing for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, they are two of the top midfielders in the world but will need to be on top form, which they were not at times during qualifying.

In attack, Croatia have Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic, who showed what he can do in the Champions League this season, scoring 2 goals at Real Madrid in the quarter-final.  The striker scored 5 goals in qualifying and was Croatia’s top scorer.

Defensively, Croatia could not be faulted in qualifying and conceded only 4 goals in their 10 matches. Only Spain and England qualified with a superior defensive record from the European groups.  However, they were lacklustre in attack and Croatia managed just 15 goals, which is lowest total of all the European nations which qualified for the tournament.

Coach, Zlatko Dalic, took over the job with one match remaining in qualifying and defeated Ukraine to seal second place before winning the playoff against Greece.  He has previously worked with many of the players having been assistant coach of the of the under-21 Croatia team and the squad seem happy with his appointment.

There is not doubt Croatia have several good players in their squad and on their day, they can defeat every other team in this group, including Argentina.  It would be a surprise if Croatia did not finish in the top two and they will fancy themselves to defeat both Iceland and Nigeria at a neutral venue.  Anything beyond the Round of 16 would be considered a good tournament.

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Who, what, when and where? – All you need to know about the 2018 World Cup draw

Following the final World Cup qualification play-offs, we now know precisely which 32 team will be heading to Russia for the greatest sporting festival on Earth next year.

But, there is still plenty to be decided before the action gets under way on June 14, with everyone still in the dark as to which teams are playing each other and when.

Thankfully, we do not have to wait much longer for light to be shed on those finer details, with the World Cup draw – undoubtedly set to be a glitzy and glamourous event – on the horizon.

Below we give you the lowdown on the draw…

When and where is the draw?

Football dignitaries and international media will converge on the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Friday December 1 for the eagerly anticipated draw.

The ceremony is due to kick-off at 15:00 GMT (18:00 local time), with a host of familiar faces from the world of football set to be involved.

It will be televised across the world, while FIFA will follow the action closely with a live blog.

What is the format of the draw?

The 32 teams are split into four pots, with Russia and the seven highest-ranked nations in pot one, and the lowest-ranked teams in pot four.

Each group will have one team from each pot, but there will be restrictions in terms of teams from the same confederations.

There can be no more than two European nations in any one group, while there may only be a single country from each of the other confederations.

Former England striker Gary Lineker will be joined by Russian broadcast journalist Maria Komandnaya as presenters, while trophy bearer Mirolsav Klose, Laurent Blanc, Cafu, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and several other former stars will be assisting the draw.

Who is in the draw?

The line-up for the draw is as follows:

Pot 1: Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France.

Pot 2: Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Croatia.

Pot 3: Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran.

Pot 4: Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia.

When is the World Cup?

As previously mentioned, the World Cup gets started on June 14 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and will see hosts Russia face a team from pot two.

The group stage will run for exactly two weeks, with the knockout phase then beginning on June 30, two days after the final Group H contests.

The final will take place on July 15, with the Luzhniki the setting once again.

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Putin says 2018 World Cup venues on track despite delays

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that some construction work on the 2018 World Cup stadiums remained behind schedule, but he was satisfied with the overall condition of the venues.

“These delays are not critical, there is nothing terrible there, but as I have always said … it is the most difficult thing to resolve tasks at a final stage,” Putin said at a meeting with senior sports officials, regional governors and prominent athletes to discuss preparations for next year’s tournament.

“If we relax, we will not fully accomplish the work.”

Moscow has eased visa regulations for foreign soccer fans and pumped billions of dollars into stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure.

Yet while officials were upbeat about the country’s progress in preparing for next year’s tournament, they stressed that much still needed to be done.

Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said preparations to host the 2018 tournament were in full swing but they had not been without difficulties and delays.

Kolobkov said the 45,000-seat World Cup stadium in Samara, which has been plagued with delays over the past year, remained behind schedule.

“There are some delays at different stages of construction at the stadium in Samara,” Kolobkov said, adding that the company building the venue had been fined.

“A timetable for making up for the delays and (a system) for the daily monitoring of the venue’s completion have been established.”

The company building the stadium said in August it was 30 days behind schedule but hoped to make up for lost time and end work on the venue by the end of the year, the initial deadline for its completion.

Russia showcased four of its 12 World Cup venues during this year’s Confederations Cup, a two-week tournament that featured the home country, defending world champions Germany and the champions from FIFA’s regional confederations.

Many of the remaining venues, however, are still under construction and have yet to be tested.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the governor of the Kaliningrad region, Anton Alikhanov, asked Putin to ensure that “at least some regions” receive state support to maintain the venues after the tournament.

“For Kaliningrad, where there is no Premier League team for now, handling a 35,000-seat stadium is quite difficult,” Alikhanov said.

Russia is set to host the World Cup from June 14-July 15 in 12 venues spread across 11 cities including Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi.

(Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber)