Can Resilient Croatia Actually Win This World Cup?

With a population of just four million and a national football team that’s been playing competitive football for just twenty-four years, Croatia are punching above their weight as they play in their first ever World Cup final later today.

Yet we shouldn’t be completely surprised as many of us pick them as dark horses in whatever tournament we see them in.

In their first qualifying campaign for a major finals, the Croats topped their group as they headed to Euro 96. International giants Italy were in second place due to Croatia’s superior goal difference. In the tournament it’s self they reached the quarter-finals with a wonderful Davor Suker lob over Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel announcing the Vatreni onto the world footballing scene.

The small Balkan country then qualified for their first World Cup at France 98.

They once again navigated themselves out of the group stages. In the second round they managed to produce a narrow victory over Romania. In the quarters Croatia stunned Germany with a 3-0 victory. That stupendous triumph took them into the semi-final, where they had to face hosts France. The Croatian side took the lead but it was short lived and a brace from French fullback Lillian Thuram was enough to see the French go to the final and eventually win their first World Cup trophy.

Croatia would end that campaign by winning the third placed play-off and Suker also won the Golden Boot award after scoring six goals, beating the likes of Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta and Christian Vieri to the accolade.

From that moment on the footballing world always sat up an took notice of Croatia. They’ve always produced strong defenders, technically gifted stars and reliable goal-scorers. This squad still has players that possess those attributes.

The main thing, that I believe this squad has, is togetherness and resilience.

It might seem strange to say togetherness considering striker Nikola Kalinic left the squad after he was sent home because he refused to come onto the pitch as a substitute in their opening group game but the Croatian side have seemed stronger after that incident.

The team battle as one and fight for the badge. They have each others backs and protect their star players.

They’ve shown tremendous spirit and hunger throughout the tournament. They’ve also fought extremely hard to get to this final.

In each of the knockout games, Croatia have comeback from a goal down to win the game by the end of extra-time or after a penalty shoot-out.

No one gave them a chance when they faced Argentina in the group stages, yet they recorded a fantastic 3-0 win.

Against England, people stated that Croatia wouldn’t have the legs to compete especially if it went into extra-time again. Of course the English side took an early lead and it did go into extra-time. Yet it was during the second-half and in the added periods that Croatia took the game by the scruff of the neck and outfought their opponents.

I think people underestimated the experience within the Croatian squad.

When they needed to relieve some of the pressure at the back, they’d give the ball to Luka Modric and he’d use the outside of his foot to play and excellent ball out to the opposite wing. Suddenly after having to defend for a lengthy period they were now on a counter attack.

Winger Ivan Perisic played to his strengths and to England’s weaknesses. The Inter Milan man started to come in more from the wing and use his strength and height to alienate Kyle Walker, allowing him to score and assist in the winner.

You then had full-back Sime Vrsaljko, who was meant to be carrying an injury, coming up and down the right touchline giving his all for the full 120 minutes!

So can they beat France and win the World Cup?

Well you’d be foolish to bet against them.

They’ll come into the match as second favourites but when you look at their performances against Argentina and England, they’ve played at their best as perceived underdogs.

You can’t discount a team that has the likes of Modric, Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, Dejan Lovren, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic in it?

They have given their all in this tournament and now they need to go out there and put everything on the line one last time.

They’ve clearly got the hunger and desire to make Croatia world champions but in France they could be meeting their biggest test yet. It will be about staying tight, taking your chances and holding onto the result. You can’t say Croatia aren’t capable of doing that!


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