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.