The eastern Europeans have established themselves as one of the strongest sides in the tournament so far.
A month ago, few fans or pundits would have given any serious thought to Croatia as title contenders for the World Cup. Three weeks in, however, the Croatians have been one of the best teams in the tournament, if not the best. They have garnered maximum points from their group, have beaten Leo Messi’s Argentina 3-0 and are entering into the Round of 16 as Group Champions and went onto the quarterfinal by defeating Denmark. Not even the most hardcore fan of the team would have dreamt of this, really.
Watch: Croatia 1-1 Denmark (3-2 on penalties) highlights
But dreams do come true..
In defense, the Eastern Europeans have Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren who has been a rock at the back so far. Up front, Juventus’s Mario Mandzukic has been impressive as well. However, the team is built around Real Madrid superstar Luka Modric and Barcelona ace Ivan Rakitic, both of whom have combined to make football look like poetry at times. The former has been especially brilliant; commanding the middle of the park unlike any other midfielder in the Mundial and even has two goals to his credit.
Typically lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, the Vatreni(Blazers) feature Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic in the wings. Modric and Rakitic marshal the midfield while Mandzukic stays up top. The Inter Milan playmaker Marcelo Brozovic shields the defence as a regista and also helps to recycle possession. AS Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic remains under the crossbar while Lovren and Domagoj Vida make up the central defense. In four games so far, they have scored eight goals and conceded just two, against Iceland and Denmark respectively. Their football has been a visual delight and that rightly, makes them a title contender.
Operating under the shadow of the class of 1998 which made it to the semi-finals of the competition, this Croatian outfit remains dauntless. Consistent comparisons to their predecessors who have so far traversed the longest distance in the country’s history at the Cup do not affect them. Neither does the knowledge of the fact that their part of the draw is comparatively easier because they will not be facing any of Portugal, France, Argentina, Brazil and Belgium until the final. They will be smart to take one game at a time, starting with overcoming the hosts Russians on 7th July.
It may not be a widely accepted fact yet, but the Croatian team could be on its way to making history. And given the venue of the Cup, that would possibly be one of the best things to happen to eastern European football in a long while and it will not be surprising considering their recent performance in the World Cup.