Croatia World Cup Preview – Croatia is known as being a giant killer in big international tournaments and they have the second best odds to win their group this summer, which includes host Brazil. They did not have the best qualification process and have not looked good in recent friendlies leading up to the World Cup, but they have a solid midfield and a good defense.
Group Preview – Croatia is in Group A along with host Brazil, Mexico, and Cameroon. The opening match of the World Cup is facing Brazil and they are not only HUGE betting underdogs in the match, but will be without their main striker in Mario Mandzukic, who was given a red card in the last qualifying match and is suspended for the opener. That leaves Cameroon and Mexico with the latter being their toughest one, but with their midfield they match up pretty well with them.
Qualifying – Croatia finished the European World Cup qualifying process with the fewest amount of points of any second place squad to advance to the playoffs. They were very lucky to be drawn into the playoffs with Ice, which was the weakest squad in the playoff process. They beat them at home in the second leg, after a draw in the first, to get to Brazil. In qualifying they were 5-3-2 and while they played to a draw on the road facing eventual group winner Belgium they lost to them at home, which resigned them to the second place finish.
Strengths and Weaknesses – Luka Modric, who plays at Real Madrid, is one of the best and most underrated midfielders in the world and he leads the strength of the squad, which is midfield play. He and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic are solid at dropping back on defense and especially at attacking and setting up the attack. Mandzukic from Bayern Munich, will miss the first match, but his offensive skills will be key in the last two group matches, as the Croats do not have a dynamic attack. Their offensive weakness showed in qualifying there they only averaged 1.17 goals per match and were only one of two squads that is playing this summer that did not score more than two goals in the qualifying process.
The days of relentless experimental strategies that doomed the team before last years World Cup play off with Iceland as Igor Stimac was fired for his unorthodox style. The new manager Nike Kovac is set on the 4-2-3-1 come 4-1-4-1 setup. This formation he believes will produce the best results from stars Ivan Rakitic & Luka Modric. The question is will this be enough to endure in Brazil as the quality wingers and overall physical presence on the field lacks in comparison to the other teams.
Their goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, is doing extremely well for a new player, but Stipe Pletikosa is the go to guy at 35 years of age. With his strong reliability to deliver quality saves over the last 15 years expect him to be showcasing his experience during the games.
Commentary by Bryan Levy
2014 World Cup Betting Odds