For the first time in their history, Croatia will enter a World Cup in which the only way to better their previous result would be to win the whole thing.
Zlatko Dalic’s side shocked everyone when they made a run all the way to the 2018 final, falling to a stacked France side in Moscow.
The Vatreni will have their work cut out if they’re to even match those achievements from Russia in Qatar, but now that they have a wealth of tournament experience behind them, such a feat might not be the most shocking thing.
Here’s everything you need to know about Croatia ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid)
Defenders: Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens), Dejan Lovren (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Borna Sosa (Stuttgart), Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Mario Pasalaic (Atalanta), Nikola Vlasic (Torino), Lovro Majer (Rennes), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Luka Sucic (Red Bull Salzburg)
Forwards: Ivan Perisic (Tottenham), Andrej Kramaric (1899 Hoffenheim), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split)
Backup goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic is the only member of Dalic’s usual contingent that will miss the World Cup through injury.
Dominik Kotarski, Nediljko Labrovic, Duje Caleta-Car, Marin Pongracic, Luka Ivanusev, Josip Misic, Josip Brekalo and Antonio Colak were cut from the preliminary squad.
Still going strong at 37, Luka Modric will be dreaming of swapping silver for gold at the World Cup this time around. His performances in 2018 helped him win the Ballon d’Or, and while he understandably isn’t as consistent a player these days, he still steps up in big moments and will be crucial to their chances once more.
One of Europe’s perennially underrated midfielders, Marcelo Brozovic will be helping Modric in the middle of the park again. Still only 29, the Inter star brings as much experience as energy and will relish their big encounters – a duel with Kevin De Bruyne and Belgium on matchday three is going to be particularly tasty.
Listed as a forward for country but playing at wing-back for club, Croatia will again lean on Ivan Perisic to help lead them at a major tournament. Only Modric and Darijo Srna have more caps for the nation than the Tottenham man, who has come into form at the right time.
Chelsea were ready to break the bank for RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol in the summer (and they may still do so down the line), and the 20-year-old should see his stock rise once he gets his first taste of World Cup experience.
Many of Croatia’s centre-back options are in the twilight of their careers, but Gvardiol gives Dalic a chance to refresh a squad which could look very different over the next few years.
Dalic has heavily favoured a 4-3-3 system in 2022, attempting to weld together his experienced core and some fresher faces.
Croatia predicted XI: Livakovic; Juranovic, Sutalo, Gvardiol, Sosa; Brozovic, Modric, Kovacic; Pasalic, Kramaric, Perisic
Croatia booked a spot in the UEFA Nations League finals prior to this year’s World Cup, winning four and drawing one of their last five outings.
They are one of few competing nations who will play a friendly before the tournament kicks off on Sunday, with a match against Saudi Arabia set to take place on Wednesday.
Croatia’s last five results (all competitions)
Croatia 1-1 France
Denmark 0-1 Croatia
France 0-1 Croatia
Croatia 2-1 Denmark
Austria 1-3 Croatia
This will likely be the swan-song of Croatia’s golden generation, and for a country of under four million people, they should be proud of their achievements.
For them to match their run at 2018 would probably be an even bigger feat than the original, though with it being such a weird World Cup, you can’t rule out a dark horse going far again.
Unfortunately for Croatia, there are other dark horses with fresher legs than theirs. Save up for the Nations League parade instead, lads.
Prediction: Last 16