[OP-ED]: Good news for soccer fans: Croatia is knocking at the World Cup’s door
Since it became a free country moving away from the old Yugoslavia in the early nineties, Croatia has had a national team that has been amongst planet’s football top entertainers.
Its first international participation was a huge success reaching the round of eight in England’s 1996 Euro Cup. Two years later, the Croatians shocked everybody by reaching the Final Four of the World Cup held in France, finishing in third place. Croatia destroyed Germany, 3-0, in the quarterfinals and only lost in the semifinal round against a host squad that recorded a come-from-behind victory to win, 2-1.
The Croatians became fan favorites thanks to a Mediterranean playing style full of joy. Three players shined above the rest on that team. Robert Jarni’s strength made him the owner of the left wing, Robert Prosinecky guided the squad in midfield and Davor Suker, who played for Real Madrid, became the top star by leading the whole tournament with six goals.
After that huge success, Croatia has participated almost in every international soccer competition.
The European squad has dodged easily the qualifying games, but has been unlucky in the final rounds. Anyhow, Croatian players have developed key roles in the mots powerful soccer clubs in the Old Continent.
Currently things are the same. Two Croatian players highlight the midfield of the two Spanish powerhouses. While Luka Modric is the brain of Real Madrid’s middle zone, Ivan Rakitic is also a key element for FC Barcelona despite playing a darker role that helps Leo Messi shine. But the Croatian magic is not only present in Spain. Mario Mandzukic is one of the top forwards of Italian champion Juventus.
His power allows him to perform the striker role, but also to assist his teammates on defense. Another key Croatian player is Ivan Perisic, who owns Inter Milan’s left wing. The late improvement experienced by Inter is mainly due to Perisic’s versatility. He can play as forward, but he can also act as left fullback on a five-men defense. Another pillar for his club is Croatia’s captain Darijo Srna. A veteran fullback who won the UEFA Cup in 2009 with Ukraine’s Shaktar Donetsk, at age 35 Serna is still a threat attacking from the right side.
After finishing the qualifying round in second place of Group I, behind Iceland, Croatia earned the right of playing a wild card against Greece with a World Cup bid on the line. Yesterday, thanks to a very creative style the Croatians defeated the Greek, 4-1, in Zagreb to take a huge lead in the home-and-away series. Goals were scored by Modric, Nikola Kalnic, Perisic and Andrej Kramaric.
On Sunday, in tough Athens the squad coached by Zlatko Dalic will try to wrap things up to earn its fifth World Cup berth in 20 years. Thinks look downhill for the Croatians, which is great news for soccer lovers, who trust to see them in Russia 2018. Very few teams in the World have players with the skill of Croatia. I believe this squad will have much better luck in the World Cup this time than in recent years.