Croatia completes the quartet of the European teams in the semifinal of the 2018 World Cup. Who could have thought of that?
The Vatreni (The Blazers) scaled an hurdle they haven’t since 1998, beating host nation Russia 4-3 on penalties to book the last semifinal spot.
Remarkably, they achieved a knockout win over the hosts of the World Cup in their fourth attempt. Besides, it’s their first semifinal appearance since 1998 too.
Croatia have show guts from the group stages. A scrappy 2-0 win over Nigeria was followed by a miserable 3-0 demolition of Messi’s Argentina. They put the icing on the cake against giant killers Iceland, emerging as one of the three countries to finish the group stage with all 9 points.
The bumpy ride continued against Denmark and Russia in the knockout stages. They required penalty shootouts to eliminate their foes and continue their steady progress. It was an enduring routine but they managed to be perfect thanks to the ingenuity of goalkeeper Subasic.
The hallmark of Zlatko Dalic’s side has however being their prowess in the midfield. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic especially have been instrumental to their ball retention and passing. As at now, there are no gifted midfielders left in the tournament who are better than the duo.
Modric and Rakitic aside, the execution of play by the team has been noteworthy. Mario Mandzukic plays alone upfront in most games with Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic on the sides. Plus, Andrej Kramaric serves as a lever.
Invariably, they play with five midfielders and they are never short of men to regain the ball when they are out of possession.
Even though Mandzukic hasn’t done much of goalscoring, they can afford directness on the sides, meaning they could hurt from the central figure or even exploit spaces on the flanks.
Like France, who are also in the semifinals, Croatia operate a four man defense which gives them balance. Their fullbacks, Strinic and Vlarjsko move up field with tenacity while Lovren and Vida are dominant in the air as well. Lovren particularly, has defiled all odds with his performance.
Dalic’s men are not studded on the bench though, but their greatest asset has been the dexterity of starters.
With the potential of playing two more games assured, if it comes down to anything, Croatia can stand the test of time.