|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.