Croatia entered the European championship with the title of “dark horses”. That title is debatable considering “dark horse” literally means “a competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins”.
Considering so many expect the Croats to win, the title seems redundant and almost all of Croatia’s ideal XI is well known to people who watch football.
The team should and is built around the world-class midfield axis of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic.
Frontrunner for goal of the tournament
In the 41st minute of Sunday’s Group D opener, Luka Modric scored an early frontrunner for goal of the tournament and led his side to victory. The diminutive Croatian latched onto a botched clearance from Turkey’s Selcuk Inan, and blasted a shot into the back of the net.
Croatia produced a fine performance and defeated Turkey 1-0.
They controlled the play through possession and were the stronger side throughout, even though they didn’t necessarily play to their strengths.
Croatia is a team of strong individuals but there are some notable weaknesses in the side. Ante Cacic doesn’t have a strong holding midfielder to make a playmaking axis of Modric and Rakitic, someone who could shield the backline and allow the La Liga duo to concentrate their energies offensively.
Badelj is doing the job for now, and despite a poor first half, it was still a positive performance from him.
There isn’t a better option available for Cacic and Badelj has shown he is good enough to himself generate attacks. It wasn’t surprising to see Modric more effective, when he is playing alongside a player, who understands his defensive responsibilities.
Up front, Mario Mandzukic is still the first choice despite having only scored one goal in 20 in the qualifiers. His hard working, largely physical side doesn’t fit well with the rest of the team. The alternatives are not strong enough and it makes sense for Cacic to rely on an unfiring Mandzukic as he has the class to deliver.
Lastly, it is well-known Cacic doesn’t command much respect or authority among the players.
He IS the main man
Despite the likes of Rakitic and his Real Madrid teammate Mateo Kovacic in the squad, it’s Modric who is the midfield maestro for the side, someone who basically pulls all the strings and orchestrates play from the heart of the pitch.
He is the key for the side and is also very crucial for the side’s on-pitch cohesion.
Modric was 200 to 1 to win the golden boot for good measure. He is not going to be scoring wonder goals, or even tap-ins every other match. The bulk of goals have to come from elsewhere and therein lies the biggest factor which keeps Croatia’s chances from getting serious.
But if the Croatian can show this kind of brilliance for his national side every other game, Croatia genuinely stand a chance of reaching the far stages of the tournament.
The Croatian hope
Luka Modric will be the player on whom Croatia’s hopes rest for the tournament, and this was illustrated in the first match itself.
At 30 years of age, he is at the peak of his powers and is quite possibly the best midfielder in the tournament, alongside Andres Iniesta.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra
Follow Aakriti on Twitter @Aakriti1
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