Croatian Midfield Lives Up to Hype, Paves Way For WC Final Glory
Croatia had already played 240 minutes of football in their previous two matches before coming into Wednesday’s semi-final. And this doesn’t include the excruciating penalty shoot-outs that they had to go through before claiming their place in the last four.
The semi-final against England was no different. The Croats again played 90+30 minutes to book their spot in the final – a first for the nation which has population of only 4.2 million.
In fact, after Uruguay in the first-ever World Cup in 1930, Croatia is the smallest nation population-wise to qualify for the final.
Now, they have to overcome the French barrier on Sunday to come up with one of the the most remarkable World Cup victories in history.
Croatia’s route to the final hasn’t been picturesque. But again, they are in the final, which speaks a lot about the side. In the Round of 16 and the quarters, they came back to win after going down against both Denmark and Russia before advancing on penalties in the Round of 16 and the quarter finals.
Getting The Midfield Right
Apart from the French side, the only other thing that remained true to its pre-tournament billing was the Croatian midfield in this World Cup.
In 2017, when Zlatko Dalic took charge of the Croatian lot, he found it difficult to fit both Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic in the same squad in a constructive manner.
In the end he settled for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Modric in the number 10 role.
Till now Modric along with Barcelona’s Rakitic have not only facilitated the build-up but also scored a few of them. Out of the 12 goals scored by Croatia in Russia, the duo has scored three.
Modric scored his first goal in Croatia’s first match against Nigeria. It was a spot kick which he converted with ease. But his second goal which came against Argentina was a stunner from outside the box and arguably will be among one of the top goals of this edition.
Rakitic also scored his solitary goal against Argentina but since then both have taken on a playmaking role, orchestrating Croatia’s attacks and feeding Perisic on the left and Mandzukic in the centre, the scorers against England.
Modric is the lynchpin of the Croatian midfield and Rakitic has ably supported his captain and has always stepped up when required.
Rakitic is like the Robin to Modric’s Batman.
The Recovery Against England
Against England, it was again the Croatian midfield which brought the side back into the game. After a patchy first half, Dalic came up with the right adjustment and the familiar Croatian side was at display. They were once again well-organised and effective.
The Croatian midfield had earlier allowed huge amount of space which helped the English wing-backs Ashley Young and Trippier to surge forward while Mandzukic at the other end hardly found any support.
Post interval you could actually see Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic gradually exerting their authority and completely taking hold of the midfield. There had a spring in their steps and were seen feeding Perisic and Mandzukic with quicker passes.
England had no answer for this move from Dalic. And after 120 minutes of the match, Croatia were through to their maiden World Cup final.