Croatia - Team Profile
Croatia’s first shot at World Cup glory has been their most successful thus far
Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic (centre) takes part in a training session in Bad Tatzmannsdorf near Vienna. Photograph: Antonio Bronic / Reuters
Manager: Niko Kovac
Best finish: Third place (1998)
World Cup record: Played 16, Won 7, Drawn 2, Lost 7
Croatia’s first shot at World Cup glory has been their most successful thus far. After the break-up of the former Yugoslavia bequeathed them an exceptionally gifted crop of stars, they wowed crowds at France ‘98 when beating Germany (3-0) and Holland (2-1) on their way to third-place in the competition. In 2002 and 2006, however, they failed to make it out of the group stages and they missed out on South Africa 2010 altogether.
Ostensibly a 4-2-3-1 is favoured with Ivan Rakitic holding in midfield with Luka Modric, but the former may well join Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic in a more advanced role behind lone striker Mario Mandzukic if and when circumstances allow. Captain Dario Srna will be a danger down the right flank from full-back as Kovac’s side press high up the pitch.
All Star - Ivan Rakitic
The temptation here is to say Modric but we’ll opt for Rakitic after he enjoyed a stunning season with Sevilla in La Liga. He offers slightly more going forward than his midfield partner from Real Madrid, whose own progress since leaving Spurs has been remarkable. Rakitic’s creativity, however, could make all the difference in the group stages when goals are at a premium, while his deadball delivery is likely to provide Bayern Munich striker Mandzukic with plenty of ammunition.
Offaly - A class act in 1998 but what have they done since? Nothing, that’s what! Pffft!
Pundit’s corner - Giovanni Trapattoni: “You see, I see, in Poznan, no? Modric, Rakitic . . . whoooooosh, where he go? Danger all where, zooom. Mandzukic? Score! I remember this.”
First place in the group looks out of reach for everyone bar Brazil, but Croatia have real claims on second, if they can put their game faces on and put a painful, albeit ultimately successful, qualifying campaign behind them. Kovac, appointed ahead of the play-off win over Iceland, appears a less corrosive presence than his predecessor Igor Stimac, whose reign began brightly but went downhill fast and culminated in one point from their last four games as they limped over the line. The second round, against the winner of Group B, looks likely to be too much of an ask.
Goalkeepers: 1 Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov/Rus), 12 Oliver Zelenika (Lokomotiv Moscow/Rus), 23 Danijel Subasic (Monaco/Fra)
Defenders: 2 Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa/Ita), 3 Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos/Gre), 5 Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow/Rus), 6 Dejan Lovren (Southampton/Eng), 11 Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk/Ukr), 13 Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos/Gre), 21 Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Kiev/Ukr).
Midfielders: 4 Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), 7 Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla/Esp), 8 Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev/Ukr), 10 Luka Modric (Real Madrid/Esp), 14 Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), 15 Milan Badelg (Hamburg/Ger), 19 Sammir (Getafe/Esp), 20 Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan/Ita)
Forwards: 9 Nikica Jelavic (Hull/Eng), 16 Ante Rebic (Fiorentina/Ita), 17 Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich/Ger), 18 Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg/Ger), 22 Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk/Ukr).
CROATIA (v Brazil): 1 Stipe Pletikosa; 11 Darijo Srna, 5 Vedran Corluka, 6 Dejan Lovren, 2 Sime Vrsaljko; 10 Luka Modric, 7 Ivan Rakitic; 4 Ivan Perisic, 20 Mateo Kovacic (14 Marcelo Brozovic, 14 mins), 18 Ivica Olic; 9 Nikica Jelavic (16 Ante Rebic, 78 mins).
CROATIA (v Cameroon): 1 Stipe Pletikosa; 11 Darijo Srna, 5 Vedran Corluka, 6 Dejan Lovren, 3 Danijel Pranjic; 10 Luka Modric, 7 Ivan Rakitic; 4 Ivan Perisic (16 Ante Rebic, 78 mins), 19 Sammir (20 Mateo Kovacic, 72 mins), 18 Ivica Olic (22 Eduardo da Silva, 69 mins, yc); 17 Mario Mandzukic.
CROATIA (v Mexico): 1 Stipe Pletikosa; 11 Darijo Srna, 5 Vedran Corluka, 6 Dejan Lovren, 2 Sime Vrsaljko (20 Mateo Kovacic, 58 mins); 7 Ivan Rakitic (yc), 10 Luka Modric, 3 Danijel Pranjic (9 Nikica Jelavic, 74 mins); 4 Ivan Perisic, 17 Mario Mandzukic, 18 Ivica Olic (16 Ante Rebic, 69 mins).