Impressive in qualifying
According to the betting Croatia are the 10th most-likely side to win the World Cup this summer. Bookmakers have them chalked up at as big as 50/1 and tight as 28/1 meaning they are behind nations such as France, Belgium and England but ahead of the likes of Russia, Mexico and Sweden.
The reason Zlatko Dalic’s crew have been afforded such respect is their impressive qualifying campaign where The Blazers beat Ukraine to second place in Group I, a division won by Iceland. They lost only two of 10 starts, scoring 15 goals and conceding four.
Interestingly, they are a much better price than Iceland to win the tournament outright and the sides will renew rivalries at the World Cup proper after being dropped into Group D alongside Argentina and Nigeria. Here’s three players to keep your eye on…..
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Team packed with wonderkids
Croatia boast a talented midfield controlled by team captain Rakitic who followers of La Liga will know from Barcelona. The on-field leader has scored 14 goals in 90 call-ups and will be expected to get forward and chip in again on the big stage. The 30-year-old was a regular for league winners Barca this season both domestically and in the Champions League but faces a race against the clock to be fit for the summer kick-off after fracturing a finger during a 3-0 defeat to Roma in Italy.
That quarter-final match produced eight goals with Roma progressing following a 4-4 finish but Rakitic and his men enjoyed much more success in Spain, reeling off an impressive winning run to lift the title at a canter. Dubbed by some as the future of the Catalans’ midfield, he’s an intelligent player with proven stamina at the highest level and an intelligence that can turn defence into attack. His stock will go up in Russia.
Another of the midfield wonderkids on the books of Croatia and Kovacic seems to have the world at his feet. At only 23 years old he’s already a familiar face at Real Madrid where his versatility has won him admirers and it’s that willingness to fit into any system that’ll see him earn game time this summer. A natural defensive midfielder who builds from the back, we’ve also seen The Professor do a job out wide or as an attacking midfielder.
The transfer rumours have already started concerning his future with a number of big name European teams chasing the youngster’s signature including Tottenham, Liverpool and Inter Milan who are believed to be at the head of the queue but he carries a pricetag of £26m+. If Kovacic is after a move away to get more game time he’ll want to prove his worth and help push Croatia into the knockout stages of the competition.
The 26-year-old Hoffenheim striker is a former employee of Leicester City where he scored two goals in 15 starts before being pushed out to the Bundesliga. There he’s had plenty more joy in front of goal, netting 29 times in his first 80 starts and he’ll be asked to go and get the goals needed to keep his nation’s hopes alive. That form will have Foxes fans wishing the club had kept hold of the star, but he could win himself a move back to the Premier League with a strong summer showing.
Kramaric has hit form at exactly the right time and finished the German top-flight as one of the most lethal strikers in the closing stages of the schedule. Bagging six goals in five games, including a double against Mainz, pushing his employers into the mix for a Europa League finish. The player confirmed his mood when telling members of the press he’s full of confidence at the moment and that makes the job of scoring goals a lot easier.