Croatia captured the heart of many fans around the globe with their style of play in Russia, since it was one of the few teams that was always proactive and trying to attack. On top of a great deal of talent and quality, they showed amazing resilience, outlasting the opponents in the extra time once and winning on penalty kicks twice. However, a five-minute blackout in the second half of the final, where they allowed France to score twice from distance, did them in.
Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Strinic played major roles in the Vatreni’s World Cup campaign. The Inter winger was simply one of the best players in the tournament: he scored three goals and at times looked unplayable. He was incredibly active, sometimes moving over the right flank as well and was their main go-to guy in the trident. He showed up in the biggest games, burying a wonderful volley to equalize against England and then doing the same against Le Bleus, this time with a carefully prepared strike from just inside the box.
The Juventus striker was deployed primarily as a centre-forward, differently from last season at the club, but still roamed and helped his teammates a lot. He made his presence felt in the box, hitting the net from close range in the Denmark game and solving the semi-final chasing what looked like a loose ball and finishing with aplomb. He also made Hugo Lloris look like a fool, but that turned out to be inconsequential.
They both had great showings overall, but also made crucial involuntary mistakes in the final: the centre-forward broke the deadlock with an own-goal on a set piece, while Perisic committed the handball that caused a penalty. While not decisive like the second half’s goals by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappè, they were still significant turning point of the match.
Marcelo Brozovic earned his way in the starting XI over an attacker in the same way he managed at Inter in the final few months of the season: providing great solidity as pivot. While his offensive skills are flashy and relying on them is tempting, he is way more efficient when he has a precise task a not a lot of field to cover. His contribution did not show up in the scoresheet, but it was vital and allowed Luka Modric to dish classy plays in a more advanced position and eased the burden off Ivan Rakitic.
Ivan Strinic was a starter at left back and all in all he showed well for a guy that has spent the better part of the last six months on the sidelines. He was diligent and not shy when he had room to rumble down the flank. However, he often had to be taken out and his replacement Josip Pivaric sometimes looked more dangerous.
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