FIFA World Cup 2018: Croatia, the real underdogs
Written by: K.Koushik Venkatesh
Very few gave the Eastern Europeans a shot at the crown in Russia but they have made it to the tournament's showpiece the hard way.
Croatia reached the final of the World Cup in some style after going one goal down and showing great strength, character and determination to come back and grab the winner in the second half of extra-time.
The team led by an adept midfielder in Luka Modric, have shown great togetherness right from the beginning of the tournament. Croatia were not taken ever so seriously as possible contenders when the tournament began, but after they took down the Argentinean side in the group stage, people started recognizing their talent.
Comprising two of the best central midfielders in Ivan Rakitic and Modric, Croatia showed the world the kind of attractive football they were capable of. Zlatko Dalic, the manager of the team, was just coming off a stint with a club in the UAE. Dalic was impressive at the club that he was at and helped Al Ain climb 200 ranks in less than two years that he spent at the club.
The former Croatian midfielder has been building his resume up for an eventual stint with the national side and after being appointed, he openly stated that he would quit the job if he did not get the country to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. Fast Forward to now and Dalic and his team are in the final of the World Cup and the mighty Les Bleus stand in between them and their maiden triumph.
The residents of Croatia express their views about the national team
Croatia are world-beaters and their resilience is what has led them to this position as one of the finalists in the World Cup. On paper, Croatia have a squad that looks a lot exciting, but when you take a look at the other big guns in the tournament and their squads, they pale in comparison and that is one of the big reasons why they were overlooked as title contenders even before the tournament began.
A team which has been carrying the tag of “dark-horses” before every international tournament have finally fulfilled itheir destiny and have made themselves true contenders for the crown. The elimination of Brazil, Germany and Argentina did help them in a way, but take nothing away from this awe-inspiring side who have not put a foot wrong in the tournament so far.
Croatia qualified for the first-ever World Cup only in the year 1998. In the four World Cups that followed after the 1998 WC, Croatia managed to qualify for just 3 of them and their best ever performance in a World Cup before 2018 was a third-place finish in France, their first ever World Cup appearance. The 1998 side was Croatia’s first ever golden generation too and one of the notable names in that squad was the former West Ham manager, Slaven Bilic.
Fast Forward to 2018, Croatia have clawed their way through the pile and have emerged as finalists in the World Cup. This Croatian side is their second coming and it is their second Golden Generation that is almost past its peak. A squad this special and with a journey this impressive deserves all the plaudits and the love that they are receiving.
Watch: France Vs Croatia final preview
To put Croatia’s wonderful run into perspective, the country declared independence only in the year 1991 and with a population of just over 4m, have done the seemingly impossible in reaching the final in Russia. Croatia are also the lowest ranked team to ever reach a World Cup final. One of the more startling facts is that all their three knockout games at the tournament so far have gone to extra-time. This means that the team has technically played an additional match when compared to their final opponents in France.
There are some stories that you cannot possibly script and Croatia’s journey at this World Cup has been one of those. Right from Modric and Rakitic’s masterful performances, Dejan Lovren and Domagoi Vida’s defensive solidarity, Danijel Subasic’s nail-biting saves to more importantly the front three of Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic’s relentless pursuit of getting a goal have all been rightfully rewarded with their berth in the final. Beating France to win the World Cup is the aim and they are only 90 minutes (possibly 120) away from creating history and etching their names deeper into Croatian folklore.
Published: Fri Jul 13, 2018 04:38 PM IST