Silent But Deadly: Croatia’s Move Towards The Semifinals

Croatia

With almost all the giants bowing out of tournament, Croatia have been moving swiftly toward their first FIFA World Cup Final appearance without having to make a lot of noise in their strides. 

 

Finishing their group with a perfect record of three wins, seven goals scored and only conceding one, the Balkans proved a force to be reckoned with without relying to much on their star players Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. They’ve been notable as well when it comes to their midfield play. An average of 60% possession rate showed their dominance of the ball as well as how they are building up their game in the midfield area.

Their most notable performance in the group stages were against the 2014 FIFA World Cup Runners-up Argentina. A 3-nil masterclass brought the powerhouse team led by Lionel Messi. Modric and Ante Rebic had their fair share of spectacular goals scored in this match. Rebic scored a lovely volley courtesy of a Willy Caballero blunder on the 53rd minute of the match while Modric fired a rocket on the 80th minute past the stretched hands of the Argentinian shot-stopper.

In the knockout stages, they seemed to have slowed down but almost perfected the art of the penalties as they’ve won both their round of 16 and quarterfinal match on the spot. During their game against Denmark, Danijel Subasic was called on to deliver spectacular saves against the Danes and he didn’t disappoint. Rakitic put the winning goal past Kasper Schmeicel to send them to the last eight where they went on to face hosts Russia.

As expected, the match was not an easy one to win for the Balkans as the whole nation was expecting them to make it through the last four of the tournament. Denis Cheryshev opened the scoring for the hosts through a lovely curling ball past Subasic on the 31st minute of the match. They managed to equalize on the 39th minute as Mario Mandzukic fed the ball into the box for Andrej Kramaric who simply nodded the ball into the back of the net.

The match went on to extra time where Domagoj Vida scored first on the 101st minute before Russia’s Mario Fernandes sent the game to penalties after equalizing at the final minute of extra time. All the Croatians needed was a perfect performance in the penalties and some luck for Russia to miss their shots.

After going tit-for-tat from the spot, Fernandes stepped on the spot after Mateo Kovacic’s attempt from the spot was saved by Igor Akinfeev. After scoring the equalizing goal at the death, Fernandes stepped inside the pressure cooker to send the home fans on a frenzy but he did the opposite as his shots goes just wide of the post. This opened an avenue for the stars to make their mark in the game.

Up stepped Modric, gave the keeper the eyes but Akinfeev was unfazed and went the right way to tip his shot off the post only to find the ball bouncing off the crossbar before making its way into the back of the net. Exchanges of goals scored in the penalty spot came right after before Rakitic made his way to the spot.

Being the final kicker of the match, Rakitic needed to rely on his predatory finishing to send them to the semis. Unmoved by the appearance of Akinfeev between the sticks, Rakitic made a run to the ball then sent the keeper the wrong way to the dismay of the home fans and the ecstacy of the Croatians inside the stadium and back home.

They will now face England who’ve been on a run as well towards the semifinals and are looking to make it all the way to the finals to bring home the trophy they’ve been waiting to come home for 52 years now. On the other hand, Croatia would like to make it past England to send their nation to its first ever appearance in the final of the tournament and produce a better finish than their 3rd place performance back in 1998.

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