Few in the Croatian national team would never have dreamt that they would have dreamt that they would have been in the position they find themselves in as they prepared for the advent of the World Cup.
Dropped into a group with the last tournament’s runners-up that boasts one of the most potent attacking line ups in world football, a Nigeria side brimming with confidence and an Icelandic team renowned for their ability to ground out a result, they would be justified in believing that they were in for a gruelling battle to qualify for the knock out rounds.
However, it has not been thus.
After a first round clash in which they dispatched Nigeria with relative ease – a freak own goal from Etebo and a Luka Modric penalty giving them a comfortable three points – the side then proceeded to shock the foundations of the football world with a victory over Argentina that will rightfully go down in World Cup history.
In a clash that saw them stare into the face of a nation that is practically a dynasty when it comes to international football, the Croatian team stepped up to the challenge to put themselves firmly in the driving seat of group D.
A freak goal from Ante Rebic, who capitalised on a glaring error from keeper Caballero, a moment of genius from the Real Madrid Luka Modric and a third from Ivan Rakitic secured an emphatic result for the side that will have elated the Croatian fans and seal qualification with a game to spare.
Barring a shock sequence of results, Croatia are seemingly set to top the group – with a draw against minnows Iceland being enough for them to guarantee the top spot in the group.
Whilst Iceland’s abrasive, defensive-minded approach to the game should not be underestimated, Croatia will be brimming with the belief that they can secure a clean sweep as they target the knock out stages of the tournament.
The team boast two key attributes that have facilitated their journey to success thus far.
Unlike many teams, their outfield eleven boasts genuine balance across spine and a core of highly technical players in their midfield – driven by Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic – that are more than capable of changing a game with a moment of magic.
With qualification nailed and a big victory already under their belt, the prospect of facing what is clearly a determined Croatia side will be of concern to all teams remaining in the tournament.
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