2022 FIFA World Cup Team Previews: Croatia
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is less than a month away from kicking off in Qatar. Over the next 32 days, I will be previewing each team that will be taking part in the world’s most-watched event. Check out all of the team previews that have been done so far. Up next is Croatia.
The 2018 World Cup runner-up boasts some of the same stars from that magical run, meaning all eyes are on another run at the 2022 World Cup. However, as it was an aging team that impressed in 2018, “The Vatreni” or “The Blazers” will have a much harder time than four years ago. One of the key players four years ago that has since retired from international play is goalkeeper Danijel Subašić, and Croatia does not have a perfect replacement yet.
To qualify for the 2022 World Cup, Croatia needed a late own goal against Russia to secure first place in their group and a place in the World Cup. Since then “The Vatreni” have won five of eight matches including four straight recently. The current winning streak includes wins over France and Denmark and has pushed Croatia to 12th in the FIFA men’s rankings.
World Cup Appearances
Croatia did not appear in a World Cup until 1998, due to not having independence from Yugoslavia until 1991. However, since debuting in 1998, “The Vatreni” have qualified for six of seven World Cups including this year — they only missed out on the 2010 World Cup.
Best Finish at a World Cup
The 2018 World Cup was the best finish Croatia has had at the tournament. They made their first and only World Cup Final appearance but lost to France 4-2. Three times “The Vatreni” have gone out in the group stage with their only other knockout stage appearance coming in 1998 when they finished third place after losing to France in the semifinal.
The heart and soul of this Croatia team is midfielder and captain Luka Modrić. The 37-year-old was named the Golden Ball winner at the 2018 World Cup as the best player in the tournament. Since debuting for “The Vatreni” in 2006, Modrić has appeared in 154 matches for Croatia, making him the country’s most-capped player. The midfield is Croatia’s identity and if they win matches it will be because of Modric and his midfield partners Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović.
An aging defense will be reliant on an inexperienced back four outside of 33-year-olds Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. This will not help the lack of a solid goalkeeper with Dominik Livaković set to protect the goal. Similarly to the defense, the attack will be rather reliant on a single person to score goals. That player is Ivan Perišić. The Tottenham forward has scored 37 goals for “The Vatreni” which is the third most by a Croatian player.
After taking over the managing duties in 2017, Zlatko Dalić guided Croatia to the 2018 World Cup Final in his first major tournament. He then led “The Vatreni” to the Round of 16 at the 2020 Euros. Before managing Croatia, Dalić managed a trio of club teams in the Middle East. Through his five years in charge of Croatia, Dalić has a record of 31-14-17.
Biggest Group Game – vs. Morocco on Nov. 23
On paper, Croatia should be favored against Morocco, but this is a trap game for an aging side. Morocco has all the skills and ability to cause an upset here which would put a damper on Croatia’s knockout-stage hopes. With this being the first match of Group F action, it will be important for “The Vatreni” to get off to a good start as they did in 2018 when they beat another African side, Nigeria, 2-0 in their opening match.
Age and inexperience will catch up with Croatia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. While we saw an improbable run in 2018 we will not be seeing that in 2022. I think Croatia will struggle in the group stage and will finish bottom of Group F and head home after just three matches in Qatar. To make matters worse for Croatia, I predict that Modrić and a few others will retire from international play following the end of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
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