By Basil Afoni
With just a few months left before the Brazil and Croatia opener of this year’s tournament at The Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, Lions4life.com takes a look at some of the threats from one of the Indomitable Lion’s opponents, Croatia, when the two meet on June 18.
The Croats have qualified for and competed in three consecutive World Cup finals between 1998 and 2006, but failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Although they had joined both FIFA and UEFA by 1992, they were unable to enter the 1994 World Cup as qualification had started before the side was officially recognised. The nation’s best performance came in their first World Cup (France 1998) where they finished third. In their following two World Cup campaigns, they were eliminated after finishing third in their groups.
The Croats fast system of play will pose a great problem to the Lions’ slow and heavy system. They will be animating their games from the midfield, passing through Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. The mobile level of these two midfielders will also cause problems for the Lions as they will have to stop these two midfield maestros in order to halt the Croats’ threats.
Also, they have an enviable midfield that consists of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric , Sevilla’s playmaker, Ivan Rakitic and Queens Park Rangers’ Niko Kranjcar. This midfield will be keen to supply the ammunition for an impressive forward line including Ivica Olic, Everton’s Nikica Jelavic and Bayern Munich goal finisher, Mario Mandzukic. With this midfield arsenal, they will be struggling to pass through the central axe and not from the wings as it is in modern football today.
Furthermore, Mario Mandzukic’s ability to find the back of the net and also his intelligence in correcting defenders’ mistakes will be another threat. Mistakes like the one in the friendly between Portugal will be easily corrected by the Croats if nothing is done to ameliorate situations like that.
Players To Watch
Mario Manzukic is the side’s leading scorer in qualifying and 2012 Croatian Footballer of the Year and is the focal point of the team’s attack. His prolific form has pushed him into football’s wider consciousness, with his goal in the Champions League final helping his side clinch an historic double.
Ivan Rakitic, the Sevilla captain created more chances than any other player in La Liga last season. In many ways, Rakitic is a typical Croatian midfielder – technically sound, versatile, and creative in possession – but he also has a much stronger work ethic than Modric and co, regularly tracking back to help out defensively. With 25 goals in 106 La Liga appearances, Croatia will look to him to supplement the goal threat of Mario Mandzukic.
Luka Modric of Real Madrid is one of the most talented midfield orchestrators currently playing the game. Modrić plays mainly as a central midfielder, but can also play as an attacking midfielder and winger. In the Euro 2008, he was included in the UEFA “Team of the Tournament”, becoming only the second Croatian to ever achieve this honour.
Mateo Kovacic of Inter Milan can play as an attacking midfielder or winger. The Inter starlet is a superb technician with the ball at his feet; he was named the second most effective dribbler in Europe last season, behind only Wolfsburg’s Diego. Described by Giovanni Trapattoni as “a mixture of Kaka and Clarence Seedorf”, Kovacic is nicknamed ‘The Professor’ by his team-mates for his cerebral approach to the game.