Outright odds: 200/1
To win group: 9/1
To qualify: 6/5
Full squad: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Lokomotiv Moscow), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Sammir (Getafe), Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina).
Manager: Niko Kovac
World Cup record: Third (1998), twice group stage (2002, 2006)
In the Racing Post World Cup guide Mark Langdon says that in a 5 a side World Cup, Croatia would be amongst the favourites. And with Modric, Raktitic, and Kovacic supplying Mario Mandzukic, any side would be hard pushed to beat the Croats, but as it is there are 6 other players on the pitch and this is where Niko Kovac’s side suffer – although the promoted U21 coach still has some useful weapons to go to war with over the next few week and a half.
The jewel of his crown is in the midfield, with Luka Modric a key part of the Real Madrid side that finally landed La Decima along with the Copa Del Rey, and also an outstanding performer in previous tournaments, while Ivan Rakitic was so impressive for Sevilla in winning the Europa League – and also crucially damaging the title hopes of Real Madrid – that Barcelona have moved for 26 year old ahead of the finals this week.
This is a giant step for the 20 year old Mateo Kovacic, but he has been outstanding from the world go for Inter after moving from Dinamo Zagreb, where he was already first choice from the age of 16, to the point where he already had Champions League experience before moving to Italy.
Upfront, Croatia also have a potent weapon in Mario Mandzukic. The 28 year old scored 18 times for Bayern in helping them land yet another Bundesliga and scored 4 times for them in qualifying to help them reach this stage, including the first of the 2 goals that saw them beat Iceland in the playoffs.
The problem is that they were not impressive in reaching the finals, however. Failing to top Belgium is understandable but they were beaten twice by Scotland on their way to a laboured second in the section and they were laboured even in beating Iceland at home to guarantee a place here. However, neither were their opponents, apart from Brazil, and they are helped by having Dejan Lovren arrive in such fine form with Southampton, even if he didn’t manage to curb his defensive enthusiasm with 5 yellow cards in 2014, while Jospip Sminuic’s own idiocy (banned for 10 matches by FIFA for chanting an Nazi slogan) leaves Vederan Corulka partnering him. Corulka comes here after a strong season with Lokomtiv Moscow but a lack of pace could leave him exposed and there’s a significant worry that Croatia will be exposed without a genuine holding midfield option.
Darjo Srna can bomb forward on the right flank as he does for Shaktar and offers a potential linkup with Wolfsburg’s Ivan Perisic, while his teammate Ivica Olic had a good season with 14 goals in 32 games for the Germans, and offers some options outside of Mario Mandzukic for Nick Kovac to think about using in what should be a tight race for second place, and a potential meeting with World Champions Spain.