World Cup Preview, Group A: Croatia
Continuing our World Cup previews, we have a look at another of the Group A teams, Croatia.
He's the little man who conducts operations from the middle of the park for Croatia and also at his club Real Madrid. We are, of course, talking about the supremely gifted Luka Modric (pic below). He was a much sought-after midfielder when playing with Spurs in the Premier League, mainly due to his brilliant attacking displays, and both Chelsea and Manchester United identified him as a key signing.
He opted to move to Spain and the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Bernabeu and despite a slow start, he has now become a fixture in the Real Madrid line-up. A constant, buzzing, probing presence in the heart of midfield, if Croatia are to make an impression at this World Cup, they will need Modric to be at his best.
He may have had a disappointing season with his club in terms of appearances, but 20-year old Mateo Kovacic from Inter Milan is a player of great quality. Brazil could be the perfect platform for him to show exactly why, as an 18-year old, Inter paid his former club Dinamo Zagreb a whopping €15 million to secure his services.
Giovanni Trapattoni once described Kovacic as a mixture of Kaka and Seedorf. Lofty praise indeed and it will be fascinating to see how the youngster gets on in Brazil.
Did you know?
Shortly after becoming manager, former Croatian boss Slaven Bilić and his rock band released a single, "Vatreno Ludilo" (Fiery Madness), which recalled the team's progress during the 1998 World Cup and praised their present ambitions. The song went to number one in the Croatian charts. Now imagine Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane doing likewise?
Reasons for Irish fans to support them
During Euro 2012, which, let's face it, was a huge disappointment for the Irish, the bond between Croat and Irish supporters was great. Both sets of fans sang heartily together in the square in Poznan and got on famously well. Some more than others as you can see here.
If they were a TV series
Borgen. It's a local TV drama which is punching way above its weight and impressing people all around the world. Croatia has a population of only 4.5 million and despite this, they have an outstanding record in qualifying for major football tournaments including an amazing third place finish at the World Cup in France in 1998.
Croatia will give anybody a hard match, but they will find it tough going in Brazil. They will put it up to the hosts in the opening game before succumbing to the inevitable and then we see it as a straight fight between them and Mexico for the runners-up spot in the group behind Brazil. My gut is telling me that it is Mexico who will edge that battle so I am predicting Croatia to finish third and thus be heading home early.
Ladbrokes Betting Odds - 125/1