Croatia: Five players to watch
The Vatreni take another shot at global glory after losing the 2018 Final in Russia. In Modric, Brozovic and Kovacic they have one of the strongest midfield units in the competition.
NOV 23: There is no better word than “resilient” to describe Croatia, in terms of their ability to embrace challenges, withstand adversity and rebound from setbacks.
Despite its complex recent history, the country has witnessed the emergence of a generation of unprecedented footballing talent, so it is no fluke that the Vatreni came within a whisker of winning the last FIFA World Cup™ in Russia back in 2018. On that occasion, the Balkan team were nothing if not resilient, dominating Argentina to top their group and overcoming tough hurdles in each knockout round, which included running the gauntlet of penalties against Denmark and Russia and extra time against England.
Having endured watching their heroes weather every storm all the way to the finale against France, the Croatia fans weren’t rewarded with a happy ending, but will be hoping that Qatar 2022 serves up similar thrills to that unforgettable ride in Russia.
In this latest title bid, the team’s head coach Zlatko Dalic will rely on a mix of experience and talent built around one of the world’s best players in Luka Modric, the Croatians’ evergreen skipper. Alongside the Real Madrid midfielder, seasoned high-flyers such as Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Mario Pasalic and Mateo Kovacic will perform vital supporting roles. Ahead of the next World Cup finals in Qatar, FIFA+ offers a detailed analysis of five of Croatia’s standout stars.
Position: Central midfielder
If “resilient” describes Croatia to perfection, the word that best encapsulates their captain Luka Modric’s contributions to football is perhaps “infinite”. He is the complete package, a multi-talented midfielder with exquisite ball control, adept at winning possession and also a phenomenal distributor and finisher. Add all these qualities together and you have a footballer who surely deserves his place among the greats of the game. Modric’s many honours include winning The Best FIFA Men's Player award in 2018, which underlined his individual greatness.
Modric’s modest and magnanimous outlook off the pitch, matched by his awareness and influence on it, have turned him into one of the most legendary midfielders of modern times. And age doesn't seem to be catching up with the Croatian talisman, whose immense leadership and talent will once more provide the catalyst for Croatia to go all the way in Qatar.
This list of Croatian heavyweights wouldn't be complete without Ivan Perisic. At the last World Cup the attacking wideman, who moved from Inter Milan to Tottenham during the summer, was pivotal in several matches for the Vatreni, with a strike against Iceland in the last group match, an equaliser and an assist in the semi-final win over England, followed by another goal to cancel out France’s opener in the deciding match. Croatia supremo Dalic will depend heavily on the attacking merits of Perisic, who is likely to be one of the first names on the team sheet. He is also another leader who can lift the team right from the early stages, just as he did at the last UEFA European Championship, when he netted twice in the group round, and in qualification for Qatar, contributing three strikes.
For Perisic, there is no greater motivation than pulling on the chequered jersey of Croatia: “It means a lot to me,” the winger previously told FIFA.com. “I started playing football when I was six years old and always dreamed of playing for the national team and for big clubs. Both dreams have come true. I’ve done everything I could to become the player I am today. I always try to give my best when I’m wearing my country’s shirt.”
This lifelong devotion to Croatia's colours and hunger to perform on the biggest stage are another two reasons why Perisic will be one to watch in Qatar.
Position: Central midfielder
Marcelo Brozovic will turn 30 on 16 November, just days before the FIFA World Cup 2022 kicks off. At this prime stage of his career, the versatile playmaker can fully exploit his armoury of skills and wealth of experience. For this reason, the Inter midfielder will undoubtedly be one of the pillars of Dalic's side.
An intelligent player, he is capable of providing balance to teams both in defence and attack. He has made giant strides in recent years and has excelled in Serie A, becoming one of the most consistent performers in his holding role, not just in Italy but in the world.
The Zagreb-born midfielder’s former manager at Inter, Antonio Conte, was instrumental in developing his game and today Brozovic is reaping the rewards.
Position: Central midfielder
The trio of Brozovic, Modric and Kovacic will be one of the most formidable midfield units on show at Qatar 2022. But in the middle of the park the Croatians also have quality in depth, boasting another all-rounder in Mateo Kovacic, an uncompromising tackler with the technique to transform loose balls into chances.
In 2018 he was one of the prime movers of Croatia’s title run and his recent overseas experiences will make him an even more menacing presence this time around.
Following the 2018 World Cup, Kovacic moved from Real Madrid to Chelsea, where he has continued to hone his mentality and skills. Natural talent will only take you so far in the physically demanding Premier League, and thanks to his time spent playing in England, the Croatian enforcer has added extra steel to his game.
Position: Attacking midfielder
From his preferred position as an advanced playmaker or wide central midfielder, rather than as an out-and-out striker, Mario Pasalic still gets his fair share of goals and many of them are crucial. He will enhance Croatia’s competitive edge in midfield with his ability to ghost into spaces left by opposition defences.
Pasalic netted 13 times for Serie A side Atalanta last season, an impressive tally in a team whose manager Gian Piero Gasperini is a firm believer in positional rotation. So far this campaign, the Mainz-born player has struggled to find the net, but in the red-and-white Croatia shirt he will be given greater freedom to try and increase his haul of seven international goals.