Croatia’s World Cup dream goes on

Modric’s foul on Dele Alli gifted the Three Lions a free kick in a dangerous position early on, and Trippier stepped up to bend the ball over the wall and into the top corner, leaving Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic rooted to the spot. When that happened, I thought to myself – it is definitely coming home. There is no chance for Croatia to return from this one. After suffering extra time and penalty shootouts against both Russia and Denmark, this was way too much to turn over.

Apparently, there was only one dream at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in the first half. A dream for England to win their first semi-final in 28 years and qualify for another big stage – the final against France. Trippier’s first ever goal for his national team gave Southgate’s side a start which they could’ve only dreamed of. And they kept the early pressure on as Croatia were slow to get going.

England’s threat at set pieces was as constant as ever, with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, as well as Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling making all sorts of problems for Croatia’s defence. Moreover, the Three Lions should have doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark when World Cup top gunman Harry Kane was slipped through on goal, only to be firstly denied by Subasic when one-on-one, and then a combination of Subasic and the post from point-blank range.

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Croatia vs England Preview: Midfield supremacy vital for Vatreni

It seems almost nothing can stop Croatia on it’s way to the World Cup final. They’ve walked through the group stage in a surprisingly easy manner. Winning against Nigeria was not impressive, but it was enough for the initial self-confidence injection. Afterwards came the match against Argentina where Dalić’s team proved to be a serious candidate for a medal in Russia.

High-quality counter attacking football turned out to be a perfect plan for Croatia in the situation where it is opposed by a strong opponent. Vatreni began to feel very good in the role of an underdog as they showed against Sampaoli’s side.

But then the obvious problems in play while being a favorite started showing up. Dalic’s side started to struggle when in possession which was clear in the next two games.

In the first round of the knockout phase Croatia held off both it’s nerve and Denmark 3-2 in penalty kicks with the veteran shot-stopper Danijel Subasic stepping up at the right time. The Danes completely controlled the situation on the pitch for almost the whole match and similar was repeated against Russia.

There Modric and co. showed that football isn’t all about tactics, but a sport filled with strong emotions where they again came out as winners. It was simply unbelievable to see them pulling out from another penalty shootout intact. But, if they would play like in the last two games – against Denmark and Russia – they don’t stand a chance opposing England.

How can Croatia upset Southgate’s side?

First of all, Zlatko Dalic needs to return to a formation with three in midfield where Marcelo Brozovic will be the one who can unleash Modric’s abilty to drive his team forward, drag the opposition out of shape and generally dictate the match tempo. Dalic’s decision to introduce Internazionale’s deep-lying playmaker against the hosts after an hour proved to be a game-changer. Ultimately, in similar shape Croatia completely outplayed Argentina who, like England, play with three at the back.

Brozovic played a decent game against Argentina where he successfully, in cooperation with Rakitic and the defence, stopped Lionel Messi. He is the third best Croatian as per Twelve’s ‘points per minute’ overall rating at the tournament and will be vital in stuffing the midfield with players in order to stop England’s excellent duo Alli and Lingard in their roaming.


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Croatia 2-2 Russia (4-3 pens): An ode to Modric but problems still persist

Croatia are the last semi-finalist of the World Cup after Vatreni got past Russia on penalties. Croatian people waited two decades for this to happen. Vatreni finally did it, but it was really rough, dramatic and thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over the hosts at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, following a 2-2 draw after 30 minutes of extra time.

Croatia have knocked out the host nation at a World Cup for the first time in their third attempt, following unsuccessful battles against France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014.

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Croatia 1-1 Denmark (3-2 pens): Error 404 – Eriksen not found

In a match which finished 1-1 and had plenty of drama, Croatia held off both it’s nerve and Denmark 3-2 in penalty kicks with the veteran shot-stopper Danijel Subasic stepping up at the right time. After Russia’s goalkeeper made two big penalty saves to help the hosts shock Spain in the round of 16, Croatia’s goalkeeper put on his own world-class display, saving three penalty kicks to guide Croatia past the Scandinavians.

The second-smallest nation left in the competition squandered a chance to win the match with 116 played after Kasper Schmeichel superbly kept out Luka Modric’s penalty and saved two more later in the shootout. Croatia will now return to the quarterfinals for just the second time in history, and the first time since the 1998 tournament in France.

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Croatia vs. Denmark Preview: Danes not just about Eriksen

After my debut article for Twelve where I explained why Croatia can no longer be considered a darkhorse at the World Cup, I am now looking towards the Vatreni’s decisive match of the tournament against Denmark in which we’ll see a great battle for the quarter-finals spot.

Croatia were one of just three sides to claim maximum points from the group phase, while their opponent did just about enough to finish second in Group C. All three group matches gave Zlatko Dalic a chance to show a different style of play. Against Nigeria they’ve shown a sheer routine with a 2-0 win in their opener, before they trashed Argentina with a stunning 3-0 win in their second game. Croatia then battled to a 2-1 triumph over Iceland with a mixed squad in their closing match of Group D.

Croatia’s top performers in the group stage.

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Can Croatia dream of winning the World Cup?

Only six nations in the last 32 years have reached the knockout stage of the World Cup without conceding a goal. Another one could be Croatia this year. I couldn’t have imagined things would turn out to be exactly as they are now.

The whole qualification process was strange for Croatia, especially in the last few games. I still remember watching the game in my hometown against Finland, which was supposed to be an easy three-pointer. Mandzukic scored in the 57th minute, but Soiri banged in the leveller in the 90th minute.

Next match was against Ukraine. It was the last round of the qualification process and ‘Vatreni’ needed a win to make the playoff. After the draw against Finland, the Croatian FA sacked Ante Cacic and things started to look irreparable. The chaos and disorder in Croatia’s game was obvious.

In that game against Finland, only Luka Modric showed the willingness to play and compete. Others were not interested and it looked like we were going to miss the World Cup, and not long after we were decent at Euro 2016.

But the FA’s decision to sack Cacic proved to be right. Zlatko Dalic took over and the rest is history. After years of waiting, Croatia finally has a squad capable of something big, and they confirmed that after only two group stage games.

Not only do they look harmonious on the pitch, but they finally play in a clear-set system that has it’s own essence. Everything before that was an over-reliance on pure individualism. The majestic win against Argentina proved exactly that, but everything started with Nigeria and game no.1 in the World Cup group stage for Croatia.

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