When Croatia defeated England 2-1 in the 2018 World Cup semi-final at Luzhniki Stadium, the Zlatko Dalic-managed side were one of the more unexpected finalists the tournament has ever seen. While they boasted big name players such as Luka Modric, Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perisic, the Balkan nation had never progressed past the group stages since their maiden World Cup appearance representing Croatia in 1998 (formerly Yugoslavia).
They would eventually go on to lose the 2018 final to France 4-2, with the brilliance of Les Blues’ Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe proving too tough a task to overcome. Fast-forward four years and with the 2022 World Cup now underway, can the men in the chequered red and white replicate their success in Russia?
The bookies and punters don’t seem to think so, with Croatia paying 100/1 in the world cup odds 2022 to win it all (at the time of writing). However, unless you’re of the belief that the Blazers’ deep run four years ago was simply a fluke – the Balkan nation have enough players from their 2018 squad returning this year to put forth a decent challenge in Qatar.
If Modric and company can do what’s expected of them and secure a top two spot in Group F alongside Belgium – they aren’t a team you want to come up against during the knockout stages. While their key players might be at the back end of their careers, the chemistry and camaraderie Croatia have built over the past few years is worth noting – and that was evident as they rallied back from a goal down to beat Canada 4-1.
That sense of togetherness is something former Croatian manager and current Watford gaffer Slaven Bilic alluded to when discussing his country’s chances at the Middle East’s first ever World Cup.
“No one knows, but because I was a player and a manager for six years (I do), the biggest quality of the Croatian national team has always been, and still is, the group,” he said. “It doesn’t depend on the manager; the group are always friends.”
Bilic went on to note that in addition to the solidarity that exists amongst the current squad – he also believes they have the cattle to make some noise.
“We have a team on one hand that is very experienced, and then again we have a few young players who are protagonists and who aren’t there to make up the squad numbers,” he said.
“We have a few of them who are ready and will start. The young players bring you enthusiasm, they bring you energy. They aren’t afraid to take risks.
“In the midfield, maybe it’s not the best, but no midfield is better than Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric. Nobody has it better. We can go far.”
With that in mind, if they can manage to make it out of their group unscathed, they very well may prove their detractors wrong and show that their dream tournament in Russia wasn’t merely a flash in the pan.
It won’t be easy however, with their likely round of 16 match-up either Spain, Germany or the oftentimes dangerous Japan.