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Can surprise package Croatia lift the World Cup?

Sunday 1st July 2018

Croatia came into the World Cup with limited expectations. It was for a good reason. The Croats made it to Russia somewhat through the back door. In a qualification group which included Turkey, Ukraine and Iceland, they failed to progress at first asking. 

Despite having a strong start to qualifying after winning the first round of games, Croatia couldn't maintain top form, losing back-to-back matches to Iceland and Turkey. A draw against lowly-ranked Finland put their World Cup hopes in serious jeopardy. It led to manager Ante Cacic getting the sack.  

Zlatko Dalic was hastily appointed. The 51-year-old soon guided the Croats to a 2-0 win over Ukraine. A lifeline had been offered. 

Iceland finished atop the group, leaving Croatia to navigate through a playoff against Greece.  

Those conditions tempered expectations back home with caution. The Blazers had shown a tendency to falter when least expected. However, there is something about them that shows they may have been underperforming in recent times.   

Currently boasting players among the world's creme da la creme, Croatia are capable of much more than settling for an underdog tag.   

After stunning everyone in the 1998 World Cup, taking third place with Davor Suker leading the line, Vatreni has since failed to replicate such form.

Subsequent outings have been less impressive. The Croats were eliminated at the group stage in their last two appearances.  

Another golden generation seems ready to create further history. The current crop has proven that in Russia. Captain Luka Modric not only excels with Croatia, he enables Real Madrid's midfield to perform as one of Europe's very best.  

Dalic's squad contains players who represent European heavyweights. From Real to city neighbours Atletico, Monaco to Barcelona, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Juventus, the Blazers' quality cannot be underestimated. 

After grounding Nigeria's Super Eagles 2-0 in their opening match, everyone really started to take notice when the Croatians made Argentina collapse like a flimsy pack of cards. It was a tournament-defining performance, one which brought back special memories and led to comparisons with the history-making squad from 20 years ago.  

Hopes were raised even higher when a much-changed side managed to beat Iceland in the final group match. That victory ensured Croatia the top spot with maximum points. Having scored seven times while only conceding once, they look set to rumple more feathers in Russia.   

How far can the Blazers go?

Denmark presents the next obstacle. Age Hareide's men are not an easy opponent by any means. They have their own ambitions. 

The Danish Dynamite remain undefeated in this World Cup. They will fancy their chances against the Croats. However, if recent performances are anything to go by, Denmark will not have enough fire-power. With just one win so far, scoring only two goals, their path to the quarter-finals looks blocked.  

It is certain the Croatians will refuse to play second fiddle to any remaining team in the competition. The victory over Argentina demonstrated that whether the opposition is Brazil, Spain, Belgium or France, they will put up a good fight. 

If group stage performance continues, Croatia could be crowned the new world champions on 15 July. 

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


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