The last year’s FIFA World Cup presented us with one of the biggest upsets in its history. Although there were almost a dozen nations that were projected to reach the final match in Moscow before them, it was Croatia who overcame the odds and reached their first-ever World Cup final.
They eventually lost to the incredible French squad 4–2 in the deciding match, but their fans could still be proud as they were the smallest nation to ever reach this far after Uruguay.
Now that the euphoria of the World Cup has died down, we can look back at Croatia’s success from a distance and analyze their performance better.
So, what was the secret of this team’s success and how did they leave Germany, England, Brazil, and other football powerhouses behind them at the Mundial?
Although Croatia might not have been one of the top favorites to reach the World Cup final, they were not underdogs either.
Croatia’s 2018 squad is talent-wise arguably better than their 1998 World Cup team which finished third. Last year, Luka Modric was named the best footballer by FIFA, ending the long streak of Messi and Ronaldo who dominated at winning the reward. Real Madrid midfielder was instrumental to the team’s success, but it wasn’t only him who helped them reach so far.
Standing alongside him in the midfield was Barca’s Ivan Rakitic, while the forward positions were filled by Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic both of whom scored in the final.
In the back was one of the world’s top defenders Dejan Lovren, and the team’s wholesome chemistry can be attributed to manager Zlatko Dalic.
Persistence and Nerves
Croatia could have easily dropped out way before the final match, as they won both the round of 16 and quarterfinals matches on penalties against Denmark and Russia, while also having to go through extra time in the semifinal encounter against England. However, with persistence, the nerves of steel, and a little bit of luck, they deservedly reached the World Cup glory.
When accounting for all the minutes of extra time, they played a full 90-minute match more than their final opponents France. Despite all that overtime, Croatia never looked tired or broken down on the pitch, always trying to push it one step further, as chances like these will not be presented to them often.
A Football Nation
Although Croatia might be better known for their success in handball and water polo, football is by far the most popular sport in this country. Footballers here are heroes and legends, and people walking in the streets are more likely to wear the trademark checkerboard jersey than any other sporting equipment.
The fact is that Croatia nourishes the football tradition that was left over by their 1998 squad that finished third in France. A lot of the players who reached the final in Moscow grew up watching and idolizing them, hoping to make their citizens proud one day, which they did eventually.