For the first time in the history of FIFA World Cup, as an ‘underdog’ team , Croatia have ascend in the final. But they still believe they could beat Deschamps’ France, agencies comment.
Croatia are a small country in comparison to some of the footballing giants which have been hyped up before the World Cup started, but with a population of just over four million it could be said that they are overachieving to have come this far. Yet everything has fallen into place and with their country behind them, this could be a golden chance to lift the trophy.
From the moment the tournament began all the talk was about holders Germany – could they repeat the success of 2014? Yet they faltered by going out spectacularly in the group stage. Many tipped Argentina as winners with the aid of Lionel Messi and the striking options they possess. But they too failed after scraping through to the knockouts.
They beat Denmark 3-2 on penalties to advance to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1998!
Croatia have an abundance of talent in their roster with star players all over the pitch. Their midfield is arguably one of the best in the tournament boasting the likes of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic.
Other notable players include Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic as attacking options who have both notched goals already in this World Cup. At the back they are sure and steady with Dejan Lovren at the heart.
Then there are players who have caught our attention during this tournament. Ante Rebic looks to be a promising youngster, scoring in Croatia’s extraordinary win over Argentina in the group stage. Atletico Madrid’s Sime Vrsaljko has also looked assured as a right back, charging forward in attack whenever he can.
It’s not just the players that have made this team eye-catching and therefore contenders to lift the trophy. It is also due to the manager, Zlatko Dalic, and the style of play he has implemented.
The dazzling performances in the group stages, with wins in all three matches, coupled with the grit and determination to win in dramatic penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia, have instilled belief into this Croatian team.
The manager has inspired them to play with intent and hunger. There is a desire to press and win the ball back but at the same time be patient. There is a calmness which has filtered down from the manager to the players, who do not panic under pressure.The style of play is fluid, with quick interchanges and perfect crosses. All the players know their position and role in the squad, when they should be attacking and when to sit back.
So, the time is now ripe for Croatia to grab this opportunity and with it the ultimate prize.
A billion-dollar assembly of stars makes France the favorite for the World Cup final, a scenario that Dejan Lovren is pitching as perfect for Croatia’s biggest ever game.
“We love to be the underdogs,” Lovren said in the wake of Croatia’s England 2-1 extra-time win over England.Croatia’s players were born around the time an independent Croatia emerged from the wars which divided the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Lovren and star midfielder Luka Modric were refugees as children.
Croatia still struggles economically and its football scene has been riven with hooliganism, crime and politics. It’s a country that breeds toughness in its players.
The key to Croatia’s success in Russia, Lovren said, is “Our mentality.” “War, all these things and even now the situation is not the best,” he said. “It’s unbelievable how many talents we have in sports.”
Two years ago, Croatia’s campaign at the 2016 European Championship was overshadowed by turmoil in the stands as fans hurled dozens of flares onto the field in protest against the football federation leadership. A year before that, a swastika was drawn on the field before a national-team game.
Those episodes have led to sanctions from soccer’s international governing body, but Lovren is hoping the squad’s success at this World Cup will mark a turning point for the country.
“It’s not just football, it’s a bigger picture for us unfortunately,” he said. “Us players, now we change something and everyone is proud of us in Croatia.”
Despite the Balkan nation’s small population, it is a veritable talent factory in a wide range of sports. There’s the former U.S. Open tennis champion Marin Cilic, a raft of current and ex-NBA players, Olympic champions in skiing, discus and the country’s beloved water polo.
Most of all, Croatia is an export market for quality footballers, with a squad boasting stars for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.
Until now, Croatia’s greatest moment on the football pitch was reaching the World Cup semifinals in 1998, the country’s first tournament after becoming independent.
Stars of that team remain household names in Croatia, including the football federation president and ex-Real Madrid striker Davor Suker, who has been with this squad all the way through this World Cup campaign.
Now that the 2018 squad has gone a step further than the 1998 semifinalists, Lovren and Croatia are creating a narrative beyond anything they experienced as children when the stars of the national team were etched into folk lore following a semifinal loss to France.
“I was only nine. I remember my mum was screaming, she was crying after the French game,” Lovren said. “After 20 years people will remember us not any more (than just) ’98 — and this is what I wanted.”