Croatia face Argentina on Tuesday evening in their second consecutive World Cup semi-final.
“This is Croats. This is Croatia,” Zlatko Dalic declared in the wake of his nation’s latest World Cup upset. After forcing Brazil to extra time and then equalising to take it to penalties, Dalic was beaming. “They take it when it is most difficult. I said never underestimate them. Pride, courage, faith, love for the homeland and a Croat always succeeds.”
Here’s the XI Dalic may select with all those qualities and more as they steel themselves for another bout against a World Cup powerhouse.
GK: Dominik Livakovic – With four penalty saves in the space of five days, Livakovic has stopped a record-equalling number of spot-kicks in World Cup shootouts (per Opta).
RB: Josip Juranovic – The Celtic fullback managed to snag Dani Alves’ shirt after a quarter-final display in which he did his best impression of his childhood idol.
CB: Dejan Lovren – Before the tournament, Lovren outlined the role of Croatia’s three figureheads in the squad. “Luka [Modric] is our leader on the pitch, I’m the leader in the dressing room before the match, and there’s [Domagoj] Vida at the end of the game.”
CB: Josko Gvardiol – “This win is for the future,” Gvardiol defiantly began after Croatia qualified for the World Cup before checking himself. “Actually, I have no idea what I’m talking about right now.” Whether that victory or Friday’s quarter-final win was for the future, Gvardiol certainly is.
LB: Borna Sosa – Through what he described as “happy tears”, Sosa blubbed: “To beat Brazil is maybe the best feeling ever.” Beating Argentina may feel even sweeter.
CM: Luka Modric – More than half a decade ago, Johan Cruyff lamented that Modric was a player of “enormous quality, but who needs the freedom to express himself”. As the standard-bearer of the national team, Modric has blossomed into a composed but devastating midfielder.
CM: Marcelo Brozovic – From his first forays into football as a toddler, Brozovic’s father, Ivan – a former amateur player himself – recorded every goal, assist, highlight and mistake made by his son in a diary.
CM: Mateo Kovacic – At just 20, Kovacic earned the nickname ‘Il Professore’ during his 18 months with Inter before moving to Real Madrid. The sobriquet didn’t travel with him.
RW: Andrej Kramaric – Hoffenheim’s all-time leading goalscorer gushed that “we’ll tell our grandchildren” about playing with Modric. Many will tell their grandchildren they had the pleasure of just watching him.
ST: Bruno Petkovic – With the centre-forward spot up for grabs, Petkovic may get the nod after forcing penalties against Brazil with his first international goal since 2020.
LW: Ivan Perisic – Croatia’s second-highest scorer of all time is the only member of the squad that has featured in Qatar but never in his nation’s top flight.
Harry Symeou hosts Andy Headspeath, Quentin Gesp and Jack Gallagher to look back on the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia – join us!
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