The Croatian national team has secured a spot in the knockout round for only the second time in the country’s history. After failing to make it out of the group stage for their past three World Cup appearances, Croatia will advance for the first time since 1998.
They made it all the way to the semifinals that year in France, finishing in third place. After dismantling Argentina 3-0 last week, they put the rest of the world on notice. This team is primed for another deep run.
Their midfield tandem of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have dominated in the group stage. They are two of the best in the world at their positions and will give Croatia a chance against any opponent.
Croatia’s Midfield Tandem
Croatia was not anyone’s pick to win the World Cup in 2018. They are not as stacked with as much talent as some of the favourites that have struggled. They do have as skilled a duo as any team in the tourney controlling the game for them.
While Modric has mostly sat a bit deeper, Rakitic has had the license to push forward and spur the Croatian attack. This midfield tandem propelled their team to knock out rounds with wins in their first two games.
During the club season, these two are on opposite sides of the biggest rivalry in football, with Modric at Real Madrid and Rakitic at Barcelona. They have both won multiple trophies with their prestigious club sides, including the Champions League and La Liga titles this year respectively. Now, this midfield tandem will look to lead their country to glory in Russia.
Modric has been one of the best players in Russia so far at the 2018 World Cup. His vision, patience and instincts have allowed him to control games.
Modric had a goal in the 2-0 win over Nigeria. He also played in the cross that led to the own goal that opened the scoring. Against Argentina, he repeatedly opened up their defence with his superb passing.
His ability to gather the ball in midfield and immediately know where to go with it sets him apart. He also unleashed a brilliant dipping shot that gave Croatia a commanding 2-0 lead against their South American foes.
The midfield maestro made his World Cup debut in 2006 against Japan. He started all three games as Croatia failed to advance in 2014. Now his team is headed to the knockout rounds for the first time in 20 years, and he has been the key to their success so far. The Real Madrid man has 108 appearances and 14 goals for his country.
The other half of this dynamic midfield tandem has been equally impressive. The Barcelona man also scored a goal in their surprise win over Argentina. Ivan Rakitic was all over the place in midfield.
He was constantly harassing his club teammate Lionel Messi, hounding him whenever he got the ball. His work rate to both chase down the ball on defence and push forward in attack is extraordinary. Like his partner, he consistently unlocked the Argentinian defence with well-placed passes to spring counter-attacks.
Their combination of passing and movement always seems in sync. They have controlled the flow of each game at the World Cup so far. Rakitic has 15 goals in 94 international appearances for Croatia.
As good as the midfield tandem of Rakitic and Modric has been, they have not had to carry the load alone. Croatia is a deep team, and work extremely well as a unit.
Striker Mario Mandzukic is second all-time in the country’s history with 30 international goals. He is a pest of a striker, always looking for the physical challenges and manoeuvring himself in scoring position. He is the epitome of a goal poacher.
It was his effort and header on Modric’s cross that led to the opening goal versus Nigeria. Forward Ante Rebic scored against Argentina. He hammered home a superb volley after the opposing goalkeeper made a mess of his clearance attempt.
Inter Milan teammates Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also add to the talent and depth of this team. Croatia has a good mix of players to rotate around their midfield tandem, giving them options to find when executing their excellent passing.
For the first time since 1998, Croatia will advance past the group stage of the World Cup. They will likely face Denmark in the round of 16. Regardless of their opponents, the Croatians have proven they are a force to be reckoned with in Russia.
With so many games in this tournament decided by such small margins, every decision matters. Each mistake can be a crucial one that sends you home. This talented midfield tandem has the right combination of skill, intelligence and experience in big matches to help limit those mistakes while also pouncing on their opponent’s miscues.
Croatia are a balanced side who can comfortably play with control and possession. Thanks to Modric and Rakitic they also have players who will work hard in defence and can make the pass that springs their forwards out on the counter-attack.
With arguably the best midfield tandem in the World Cup, Croatia has a chance to make a return trip to the semifinals, 20 years after their magical run as World Cup debutantes.
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