Today, with Croatia, we continue to profile, in reverse alphabetical order, the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The Checkered Ones were part of Yugoslavia until 1991 when the country became independent. Croatia joined FIFA in time to qualify and participate in France’s World Cup 1998 where the Croats came in third. Since joining FIFA, they have qualified for six of the seven cups they have been eligible for and aside from that third place, in the last World Cup (2018) they memorably went to the finals with their great generation of players led by the best Croatian player of all time—Luka Modric.
Placed in Group F with Belgium, Canada, and Morocco, the Croats, ranked 15th in the world by FIFA, believe they will progress to the Round of 16 and the only question is whether they will end up first or second in their group. Given the quality of the opposition, only Belgium will have a say and the Croats will move on. If they come in first, they will most likely play against Spain which would be a great grudge match given their 3-5 loss, after extra time, to the Spaniards in Euro 2020 (2021). Should they come in second, they would most likely meet Germany. Both games are winnable for Croatia, that is how good they are, but if they do not bring their absolute A-game either opponent could eliminate them. The Croatian home kit is the universally known red and white checkered shirt over white shorts and white socks with red highlights. Its away kit is all black with red highlights.
Croatia is a C-shaped European nation of hills, mountains, and coastal flatlands, covering 21,851 square miles bordering the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy. The nation counts hundreds of small and inhabited islands as part of its country. The country’s climate is cool-to-warm and rainy with a temperature range from 27F in January to 64F in July. The area was inhabited since 40,000 BC, the Croats arrived in the late 6th Century, and by 879 had been recognized as an independent entity. The area was once part of the Roman Empire and Emperor Diocletian, a native, had a large palace built in Split for his retirement, and several ancient Roman ruins are scattered around the country. Croatia survived the Balkan Wars and became independent in 1991. Today Croatia is a unitary parliamentary republic of 3.9M people who are 92% Croats, 87% Christian, speak Croatian, have a GDP of $145B, and an HDI score of 0.858 (40th best in the world).
The nation represents a blend of cultures as it stands at the historical crossroads between the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Croatians consider the Illyrian Movement as the most significant period of their national cultural identity. From that perception flowed modern Croatian literature, music, cuisine, and art. Picturesque Dubrovnik was the primary filming location for the famed Game of Thrones TV series and Croatian Island beaches are world renown. Finally, the region of Dalmatia gave its name to the dog breed Dalmatians and the necktie (cravat in French) is a mispronunciation of the word Croat, the originators of the classic male wardrobe accessory.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), and Ivica Ivusic (Osijek); Defenders—Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens), Dejan Lovren (Zenit), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Borna Barisic (Rangers) and Borna Sosa (Stuttgart); Midfielders—Lovro Majer (Rennes), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Nikola Vlasic (Torino), Luka Sucic (Red Bull Salzburg), and Mario Pasalic (Atalanta); Strikers—Ivan Perisic (Tottenham), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), and Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb).
Path to Qatar
Croatia were seeded into Group H of UEFA World Cup 2022 qualifying together with Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta. The Croats qualified directly to Qatar by winning their group by a point over Russia which they also outdistanced by +4-goals.
Croatia prefer a 4-4-2 but with a diamond midfield that can turn into a 4-2-3-1. Coach Zlatko Dalic has a plethora of midfield and striker options and fewer choices on defense, but if mainstays Dejan Lovren, Damagoj Vida, and Sime Vrsaljko, are healthy and can be supported by Duje Caleta-Car, Borna Barisic, and Josip Juranovic, then Dalic will have an easier time fielding his best lineup—and that is saying something.
Croatia is closing the cycle on its best-ever generation of players and frankly, it is halfway toward that closure, missing such key stars as Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic for this upcoming cup. Nevertheless, the heart and soul of Croatia is Modric and a step down are his three main foils, striker Ivan Perisic and midfielders Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic. If the likes of strikers Andrej Kramaric and Ante Rebic can maintain their form then Croatia has a strong nucleus to go deep at Qatar.
Group and Tourney Prospects
The Croats do not possess a very deep bench so bringing their starters into the cup in top form and keeping them as fresh as possible for the major matches are Dalic’s major concerns. If he manages their minutes well their starting line-up can face anyone as an equal on an even playing field. That said, there are ten or eleven teams at this cup, Croatia among them, that could arguably make a deep run in the tournament, when by definition simply reaching the quarterfinals would mean two of the ten would be eliminated. If you define deep as the semifinals, then 60% would be eliminated. So doing deep at Qatar will be a real challenge for each of those teams.
The top teams are divided into two tiers with the top one being Brazil, France, and Argentina, and the second being Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, England, Croatia, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
Croatia will meet one of those ten teams, Belgium, in their group, and given their bracket position, the Croats would thereafter always be running into one of the other top ten as they progress. Much like they did in 2018 Croatia could progress to the final, but if they were as unfortunate in Qatar as they were in Russia and needed to play back-to-back-to-back extra-time matches, their veteran lineup might not make it intact after a couple of those. If they are that unlucky, much like they did against France in the second half of the 2018 final, they would wither.
But, if they beat the Spaniards or Germans in the Round of 16 and reach the quarterfinals, they would likely meet Brazil or Portugal and though the Croats have a shot against Portugal, Brazil would be a step too far. Ironically, should they get to the semifinals by beating Portugal, they would likely have to play France followed by either Argentina or Brazil in the final. Beating half of the cup favorites to become champions seems a stretch.