They say that after a huge performance for a small national team, a decline automatically follows. This has been verified over time. For example, Greece quickly fell out of the spotlight after winning the European Championship in 2004. Turkey was a bronze medallist at the 2002 World Cup and then fell out of favor in the world’s major competition, failing to reach any FIFA finals.
Croatia tends to contradict this. In 2018, she became the world runner-up, but she did not come out of the foreground at all. At Euro 2020, it reached the round of 16, where it was badly eliminated, in extra time, by Spain. For the World Cup in Qatar, he qualified directly from first place. And, the “squares” also won the Nations League group in which they faced France, Denmark and Austria.
The “veterans” are gradually retiring, but young people are coming behind.
At the World Cup in Qatar, Croatia will play in a group that is not very difficult, but not necessarily extremely approachable, with Belgium, Canada and Morocco.
The duels in this tournament will be treated with an extremely balanced lot in both experience and value. Compared to the unforgettable summer of 2018, we no longer see goalkeeper Kalinic, defender Vrsaljko, midfielder Rakitic or striker Mandzukic among the chosen ones.
But, Zlatko Dalic can consider himself one of the luckiest selectors in the world. Croatia is not lost, it is always transforming, and instead of “veterans”, the national team from Zagreb proposes names that are young in age, but already established.
He is only 20 years old, but it seems that he has already been at the top level for many years: Gvardiol (Leipzig) is already a basic man in Leipzig, it being quite clear that the day of departure for a richer championship, such as the Premier League, is not so distant. Midfielder Majer (24 years old) is an essential man at Rennes, one of the most attractive teams in Ligue 1, and Salzburg’s stopper Sucic (20 years old) is knocking at the gates of big football.
The midfield: can it be better?
If we had to choose the strength of the current world vice-champion, then it is clear that the midline is the main argument. Rakitic and Badelj are no longer in today’s squad, but a simple enumeration of the midfielders called up for Qatar leaves you speechless:
Majer (Rennes), Kovacic (Chelsea), Modric (Real Madrid), Brozovic (Inter), Vlasic (Torino), Pasalic (Atalanta), Sucic (Salzburg), Jakic (Eintracht).
So, representatives from all five major European championships. And not only representatives, because each of those listed above is among the most important pieces of the respective teams.
Who will be number 9?
It is curious that lacking in talent, Croatia currently does not have a striker of such a high level as the “squares” representative is rated. Dalic did not have many quality options. At first glance, for the classic number 9 post, the rightful holder is Andrej Kramaric, from Hoffenheim, a survivor of the 2018 World Cup. But, the one who has 19 goals under the national team shirt is not having the best possible season in the Bundesliga.
Suker’s, Olic’s or Mandzukic’s successors are not currently performing in first-class teams. Petkovic is one of the most talented players in the squad, but the Dinamo Zagreb forward offers fluctuating performances. Budimir would be another option, but the Osasuna striker, now 31 years old, was never one of the first options for Dalic.
However, the fans are betting on a surprise: Marko Livaja (29 years old), Hajduk’s charismatic striker, scorer of 11 goals this domestic season.
World Cup for Croats: between heaven and hell
Croatia has a “bronze” won in 1998, by the memorable generation of Suker and Boban. But, between the French World Cup and the one in Russia, the “squares” never reached the knockout stages. In 2002, they stumbled against Ecuador. In 2006, they complicated their lives with Australia and Japan! In 2010, they were absent, when they missed the only World Cup since independence in 1991. And in 2014, they lost the decisive group match against Mexico.
Croatia starts the World Cup on the same lines as always. A talented national team, capable of anything. Even the bad ones, but mostly the good ones.