2014 World Cup Preview: Croatia

By Greg Douglas
Switzerland v Croatia - International Friendly Match

In what seems to be the group of inconsistency, Croatia will look to break out of its mold and send shock waves around the soccer world, but the loss of a few key contributors could mar the Croatians chances of advancing deep in the tournament.

Croatia punched its ticket to the 2014 World Cup via a European playoff victory over Iceland in a set of somewhat uneventful fixtures that saw the Croats squeak past a much lesser side. The playoff against Iceland highlighted Croatia’s biggest weaknesses which have been the lack of production from big -name stars and the Croats’ propensity to lose to lesser competition.

If you are a distant fan of the game, it would probably come as a surprise to you that Croatia has found success at the World Cup Finals throughout the years. Croatia has reached the semifinals three times in the tournament’s history and are always a dark horse to go far in the tournament. Unfortunately, the Croatians have not advanced past the group stage since 1998 when they placed third.

The team’s qualifying effort featured glimpses of brilliant play earning them a draw against Belgium, but the team can produce a clunker of a performance every now and then illustrated by the team’s two losses to Scotland.

The team has lost two key contributors en route to the World Cup in Niko Kranjcar, who has pulled out of the squad due to a leg injury, and Mario Mandzukic, who will miss the team’s World Cup opener because of a red card in the final playoff game versus Iceland.

Luka Modric and Ivica Olic will look to pick up the slack for the Croatian side as the team tries to navigate the tournament without several key cogs in the attack. Modric was instrumental in Real Madrid‘s triumph in the Champions League Final and looks to bring that same tenacity to a Croatian side that needs for him to be the conductor of a somewhat limited offense. Olic brings experience and a rare striking power to an offense in desperate need of an attacking presence.

For Croatia to advance in the tournament, Modric and Olic will both need to be aggressive from the opening whistle.

Croatia’s first group game will prove to be the team’s toughest test in group play, not only because they are playing the host nation, but the fact that they will also be without one of the best strikers in the world for the opener drastically hurts their chances of getting a favorable result. Croatia’s second game against Cameroon is exactly the type of game the Croats have trouble with, a lesser opponent that could draw or even beat the Croatians. Croatia could be in desperate need of points in the final group game against Mexico and an up and down game with the Mexicans is not something Croatia will embrace.

The team’s attackers have to put up a good showing at the World Cup if the country wants to get past the group stage. The side has some of the best attacking options in the world when they play for their respective club sides, but something seems to get lost in translation for the national side.

The Croats did not score more than two goals in any World Cup qualifying games which could pose a problem in a group filled with prominent attackers.

Croatia is likely to get knocked down in the first game against Brazil, and it will be the team’s ability to get up off the mat that will likely determine the fate of this group. Croatia will ultimately get deflated after a tough start to the tournament, and the third game will prove to be meaningless as the Croats bow out by going winless in the group.

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