Vatreni won't crack under pressure: Why Croatia will win the 2018 World Cup

Jul 10, 2018 |

Twenty years on from their famous run to third place at France 98, Croatia have the chance to go even further and become World Cup champions in Russia. 

The 1998 team of Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban are often heardled as Croatia’s "Golden Generation" but Luka Modric & Co. are 180 minutes from doing what their predecessors couldn’t. 

It’s been quite the ride to the semifinals, too. After topping Group D – which contained Argentina – with maximum points, Zlatko Dalic’s side have been pushed to the limit in the knockout phase, edging dramatic penalty shootouts against Denmark and the hosts. 

Now, as they prepare to face England in Moscow, our friends at Football Whispers look at three reasons why Croatia can win the tournament – and three reasons why they can’t. 

WHY CROATIA CAN WIN THE WORLD CUP

The brilliance of Modric

Croatia’s run to the last four has been an immense team effort but the influence of Modric in the center of the park has been essential. 

The 32-year-old has managed 13 successful take-ons and has won the ball more times in midfield than any other player in the tournament, also chipping in with two goals and an assist, underlining his importance in both defence and attack for his country. 

Modric has experienced lows in Russia, he missed a penalty in extra time against Denmark, but has converted spot-kicks in the two subsequent shootouts, a mark of his mental strength. 

With Modric playing some of the finest football of his career, backing the former Tottenham playmaker to win the Golden Ball at +700 seems a punt worth taking. 

They have overcome the most intense pressure

Croatia’s unwavering self-belief has been a recurring theme in Russia. It helped them sweep Argentina aside and overcome the spirited efforts of Denmark and Russia.

Conceding an equalizer to Russia five minutes before the end of extra time in the quarterfinal could have crushed other nations. Not Croatia, though, who dusted themselves off and converted all four of their spot-kicks to book a place in the semifinal. 

Dangermen out wide

While their end product has not always been of the required standard, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic have been a key feature of Croatia’s attacks and possess the kind of powerful, direct running that can unnerve full-backs. 

England’s wing-backs, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young, have enjoyed solid tournaments but will face their biggest defensive test against Perisic and Rebic. 

The duo have completed 17 take-ons between them and have managed 22 scoring attempts with a goal apiece. 

If Perisic and Rebic, who is +500 to score anytime against England, have been saving their best form to the end of the tournament, Croatia’s threat in wide areas can be a factor in lifting them all the way to the trophy. 

Make sure to check out our World Cup Odds page for the latest odds on the semifinal games.

WHY CROATIA CAN'T WIN THE WORLD CUP

Vulnerable from set-pieces

There is no skirting around the fact that Croatia have been shaky when defending set-pieces. Against Russia they allowed Mario Fernandes far too much space for his late equalizer while, in the win over Denmark, they conceded from a long throw in the opening minute. 

The obvious narrative here is that England, who have scored eight times from set-pieces, will be confident of punishing them from corners and free-kicks. 

Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida will have to bring their A-game if Croatia are to see off Gareth Southgate’s Lions and reach the final for the first time.

Strinic needs more protection

It was telling Perisic was the first Croatia player to be substituted in the win over Russia. Recognising that left-back Ivan Strinic was often left exposed, Dalic brought on Marcelo Brozovic, a more defensively-inclined midfielder. 

Considering the threat posed by England’s right-hand side of Trippier, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling, getting outnumbered on that flank may prove costly to Croatia. 

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Exhaustion 

Croatia have come through two gruelling 30 minutes of extra time and two nerve-shredding penalty shootouts. 

At this stage, they are more than likely running on empty and there is a chance they could be undone by a fresher England outfit, who had their quarterfinal wrapped up after an hour. 

That may count significantly in England’s favour as they try to stop Croatia from surpassing the legends of France 98. 

If Dalic’s battle-hardened side can pull through, though, it would take a brave man to bet against them winning the whole tournament, a punt you can take at +400.

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