Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Locomotive);
Dario Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa) Igor Bubnjic (Udinese);
Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Niko Kranjcar (QPR), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Internazionale), Milan Badelj (HSV), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (HNK Rijeka), Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split), Sammir (Getafe);
Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull City), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina), Duje Cop (Dinamo Zagreb).
Croatia enter World Cup 2014 fancying their chances of making a dent in the tournament, despite the challenging group they have been given. With a squad boasting a fine balance between old heads and youth, along with experience derived from leagues across Europe, Croatia are definitely ones to watch in the tournament this year. What’s notable about the squad is that the bigger names are very seasoned professionals, plying their trades for some of the best achieving squads in Europe; Mario Mandzukic is, of course, a prominent feature of the Bayern Munich side that won the treble last year and have swept all before them in the Bundesliga this season; Sevilla captain Ivan Rakitic put in a stellar performance in his team’s recent Europa League triumph over Benfica; while Luka Modric may cap off a fine individual season, one where he has comprehensively won over the Madrid faithful, with a Champions League trophy. Spurs fans will remember Modric fondly, while they’ll also remember Vedran Corluka and Niko Kranjcar from earlier days. Another former London resident is Eduardo da Silva, who has gone on to revive his career at Shakhtar after a horrible leg injury at Arsenal, while Nikica Jelavic of Hull and Southampton’s Dejan Lovren round up the contingent of players that British fans should be particularly familiar with. Long-standing captain Darijo Srna, and former Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic round up the experience for Croatia; Josip Simunic, the experienced Croatia defender that was infamously booked three times in one match eight years ago, misses out after being banned for 10 games for making a Nazi gesture.
However, despite this plethora of household names, Croatia’s progress to the World Cup hasn’t exactly been smooth. An inconsistent qualifying campaign saw Niko Kovac’s side suffer home and away defeats to Scotland, as well as a loss to Belgium, which saw the squad needing to defeat Iceland in the play-offs to qualify; this record saw Croatia win only one of their last five competitive matches. Top scorer Mandzukic was also sent off during the play-off against Iceland, which rules him out of Croatia’s first game of the tournament – this is against Brazil, arguably their most difficult fixture.
It’s an easy choice, but an accurate one here – Luka Modric is definitely Croatia’s ace in the hole. Having struggled in his first season at Real Madrid - even being voted worst La Liga signing by Madridistas - Modric has taken advantage of Sami Khedira’s long-term injury this season, putting in some fine performances and making himself indispensable to Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Croatian fans are rightly excited by Modric’s partnership with Rakitic, and Modric, who is arguably in the peak of his career right now, will be keen to repay the long-standing belief that he is an elite player.
Another one to watch will be Mateo Kovacic, the young Internazionale midfielder. Kovacic has struggled at Inter this year after a move from Dinamo Zagreb that one could argue came too soon for the youngster, but Kovacic is an undoubted talent. His pacy dribbling is a joy to watch, but the player is very raw at present, and there are still question marks over what his best position is. The Croatian following will hope that Kovacic shows maturity during the World Cup and begin to live up to the hype that has seen him linked with bigger clubs around Europe.
I believe Croatia should be good enough to qualify from Group A. Brazil are probably their most difficult opponents, but they have the required quality to beat Cameroon. Mexico are probably the joker in the pack in this group; having come into this tournament on an unbeaten run, confidence will be high for the Mexicans, but Croatia should be too strong for them. The real issue for Croatia should be in the second round, where they are likely to be drawn against Spain, the Netherlands or Chile. As much as I admire Croatia’s players and would like to see them have a real crack at replicating their third place finish in World Cup 1998, I can’t see them going past the last 16. - Second round.