Even with the talent oozing through the squad, Croatia only squeezed through the playoffs to qualify for a second straight World Cup.
More is expected of Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric, Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic in Russia.
Can they emulate the performance in 1998 when Croatia finished third at its first World Cup?
Davor Suker, who was that tournament’s top-scorer, now has overall responsibility as the head of Croatia’s football federation.
After France, Croatia qualified for three more World Cups in 2002, 2006 and 2014 but was always eliminated in the group stage.
In qualifying for the 2018 edition, Croatia was robust in defense but lacked consistency in attack. Only 15 goals were scored, the second lowest after Ireland among the top two finishers from all qualifying groups in Europe.
Whenever an opponent scored, Croatia could find no way to win.
Here’s a closer look at the Croatia team:
Zlatko Dalic took charge at a critical time with one game remaining in qualifying. The win over Ukraine carried Croatia into a playoff series against Greece that Croatia won 4-1 on aggregate. His immediate impact was called “phenomenal” by Modric. Although Dalic had been in charge of clubs in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia since 2010, he wasn’t entering unknown territory given he worked with many players as assistant coach of the under-21 national team.
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Source:: The Denver Post – Sports