The night was young and lively in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital as the Balkans have edged out England in their semi-final clash to reach the final for the very first time in the nations history. Not only do they have a chance to get their hands on the trophy but they also have numerous reasons why they should bring home the bacon.
— CNN (@CNN) July 11, 2018
Every four years, nations have a chance to bring their name into the light and let the whole world know what they are made of. Croatia are on the verge of bringing the trophy to their country for the first time in history since their third place finish in 1998 after winning late in the extra time of their clash against England. Now dubbed as the team who stopped football from coming home, here are the five reasons why the World Cup is theirs to take to their motherland.
A New Generation was Born
We often see the names of Argentina, Brazil, Germany or Croatia’s opponents in the final, France, as the top contenders for the World Cup Trophy but this year has been full of surprises. Argentina failed to make it past the round of 16 as Lionel Messi and his company didn’t produce the brilliance that were expected of them. Brazil didn’t make it past the quarterfinals at the hands of Belgium and Germany even failed to get past the group stages at the hands of Mexico and South Korea.
With three of the top contenders leaving the competition at the early stages, France is the only nation standing in their way towards the glory awaiting them. Over the course of three weeks, Croatia rose from the dusts of previous competitions and entered the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia as the dark horses. With the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic leading the way for the Balkans, a new football superpower was born.
Known for keeping the possession in midfield, Croatia’s reputation for ball retention has been something we’ve been amazed of. In their match against England, they held the ball longer than the Three Lions which gave them an avenue to bring the ball around and look for the loopholes in England’s defense.
This possession game would not have been possible without the brains in the midfield, Rakitic and Modric. For most of the time in this game, Modric was to be found touching the ball at almost any part of the playing field with Rakitic supporting him along the way.
With the defence focusing more on the midfield duo, it opened up an avenue for their teammates to score. On the build up for their equalising goal, the ball was given wide to Šime Vrsaljko on the right side of the pitch where he crossed the ball inside the box to Perisic who then flicked the ball into the back of the net.
Also, in the build up of their winning goal, Perisic headed the ball inside the box towards virtually no one until Mandzukic came out of nowhere to kick the ball in. This just shows how the Croatians have a knack for finding open spaces and pouncing on the defensive error of the opposition.
Working as a Single Unit
It is notable to know that Croatia doesn’t have a single man to win the game for them unlike nations like Portugal who has to rely on the scoring prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina who relies on the magical dribbling of Lionel Messi or Germany’s Toni Kroos for opening the defense up in midfield. Everyone in the squad knows their position and their role for the team and acts on it like their lives depend on it.
They know that they cannot rely on just an individual to lead them to the trophy. Football is a game best played with your teammates and it hasn’t been a secret for the Balkans. Even Modric, who plays the midfield positions goes down in defense to get the ball in bring it to the midfield before distributing it to anyone in the wings. If they will continue their unselfishness and continue to cover for each and everyone’s back, they are just destined to win the trophy and cement their position as a newly-established powerhouse in international football.
The Heart of a Champion
— HNS | CFF (@HNS_CFF) July 12, 2018
During the knockout stages, Croatia experienced all of the drama a nation can expect in every game. In the round of 16, they needed to get rid of Denmark through penalties. During the quarterfinals, they needed to hold off Russia’s late-game push for the win to make it through on penalties as well and in their semifinal match against England, they needed to come back from one-nil down to 2-1 up against the opposition deep into extra time.
They couldn’t have done it without their sheer dedication and big hearts. All throughout the game against England, they held the ball but had a hard time finishing off the opposition until they were able to find the gaps and the go-ahead goal that ensured their spot in the final. If they continue to play like this, they are just primed to win the World Cup trophy after all.
Surpassing the ’98 Squad
On a feature of Copa 90 about the Team that stopped football from coming home, Edward Alexander, a resident from Zagreb mentioned that the support for the national team has been really low. However, as the matches went on, another fan, Anita Sambol, mentioned that they’ve been very happy and excited as the positive results came in.
Zlatko Dalic’s men were often compared to the 1998 FIFA World Cup Third Runners-up Croatia as that squad has been the best team they have produced for the international tournament. But after a string of positive results from Dalic’s wards, they now have surpassed the 1998 squad by going past the semifinals and into the final against the 1998 World Cup champions France.
Should they be able to maintain the momentum they gained in the group stages and into the knockout phase of the tournament, it’s becoming clear now that Croatia might finish this Sunday’s encounter with a star above their country’s badge.
Lifting the Spirit of Croatia
As we close the reasons why Croatia deserve to win this year’s World Cup, we may have to look into the situation inside Croatia. Over the past few years, this country has been festered by political issues, corruption and national protests. Sometimes, as some disputes reach an impasse, the people just need something to hold on to. A source of inspiration that can take them away from what’s happening around them. A reason to forget and a reason to move on.
Some of the celebrations in Zagreb. Not long left now… pic.twitter.com/GU7UgTqQRX
— talkingbaws.com (@talkingbawscom) July 11, 2018
Since the start of the competition, Croatia brought their comrades together as they’ve been doing inside the pitch. During their semifinal match against England, the nation’s capital Zagreb has been filled with jubilation. Previously, Zagreb has been the major stage for protests against the government and often times the situation in it intensifies. The Balkans are bound for a shot at wining the World Cup trophy come Sunday and this can be an avenue to forget the issues around them and just embrace the fact that they made it to the final and possibly, win it for the very first time.