WORLD CUP PREVIEW: Croatia

WORLD CUP PREVIEW: Croatia

COACH – Niko Kovac
BEST SHOWING – Semi Finals 1998
QUALIFICATION – 2nd in UEFA Qualifying Group A (defeated Iceland in a play-off)
TOURNAMENT ODDS – 200/1 (BetVictor)
FIXTURES
June 12th – Brazil (2100 BST, Sao Paolo, ITV)
June 18th – Cameroon (2300 BST, Manaus, ITV)
June 23rd – Mexico (2100 BST, Recife, ITV)

Button Brasil Button Mexico Button Cameroon

After the departure of Slaven Bilic, the reign of Igor Stimac was nothing short of disastrous despite the World Cup qualifying campaign getting off to a good start. After losses to Scotland and Belgium Stimac was dismissed in October and up stepped the former Croatian captain and midfield colossus Niko Kovac to steer them through the playoffs.

You could argue they had the luck of the draw as they overcame Iceland to get to Brazil but it’ll matter little to Kovac or his team.

Croatia as of writing haven’t named their final squad but I expect them to line up in the popular 4-2-3-1 formation. Veteran Stipe Pletikosa should return in goal.

Left back remains anyone’s guess but Vedran Corluka and Gordon Schildenfeld could pair together at centre-back with veteran Darijo Srna at right back.

In midfield Croatia have never really managed to find a replacement for Kovac as a strong defensive midfielder but do possess some of Europe’s finest attacking talent in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Inter youngster Mateo Kovacic is also an exciting prospect.

Bayern forward Mario Mandzukic should lead the line with Eduardo, Nikica Jelavic and the old hand Ivica Olic as other options.

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ONE TO WATCH

03 WORLD CUP KOVACICThe diminutive Kovacic made his debut for Dinamo Zagreb at the tender age of 16, eventually becoming a regular and one of the youngest players to ever score a goal in the Champions League when he netted against Olympique Lyonnais.

His mature performances for Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League caught the eye of a lot of clubs and it was eventually Italian giants Internazionale who secured his services.

A versatile midfielder who can play either as an attacking central man or more of a deep lying playmaker, Kovacic is known to be willing to take on a defender with his silky dribbling skills.

HERE COMES D-JUDGE
D-Judge

Croatia will be happy just to be here after a poor qualifying campaign. Stimac’s lack of tactical consistency proved to be a thorn in the side of Croatia and Kovac will look to be more consistent with an imbalanced side.

They do have weapons that can hurt any side though – Luka Modric has had a fine season with Real Madrid and Rakitic has been impressive for Sevilla.

Mandzukic is capable of finding the net and is a good targetman, while major concerns are an iffy defence and the lack of a quality defensive midfielder.

Croatia, like Mexico, can trouble the best and I think the winner of their clash in Recife will be the ones to go through

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VERDICT

Croatia are more than capable of qualifying from the group but if they advance any farther than the last sixteen, I’ll consider it a great achievement for Niko Kovac.

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Igor Danic (D-Good)
Owls Alive
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