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World Cup runners-up Croatia bring rebuilt squad to Qatar

By October 26, 2022Sports games

Was Croatia’s run to the 2018 World Cup final unique? Don’t be so sure.

Only five of the 11 players who started the 2018 final are still in the squad – led by 37-year-old Luka Modric – but Croatia’s rebuild fuses that experienced core with a talented new generation.

Victories over World Cup champions France, Denmark and Austria in the Nations League this year show Croatia are getting back on track after a period of disappointing results after 2018.

With over 150 appearances for Croatia, Modric will join Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the most experienced players at the World Cup in Qatar. The Real Madrid veteran is joined by former partners Ivan Perisic of Tottenham and Marcelo Brozovic of Inter Milan. Also essential is Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic, an unused substitute in the 2018 final.

Notable absentees include midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who retired from international football in 2020. Winger Ante Rebic has not played since criticizing coach Zlatko Dalic following the defeat team against Spain in last year’s European Championship.

GROUP F The draw was relatively favorable to Croatia, whose main threat in Group F is Belgium.

The Croatians will start on November 27 against Morocco then face Canada four days later, before taking on Belgium on December 1.

A pre-tournament friendly with Saudi Arabia is also scheduled.

NEW BLOOD The team’s veterans have teamed up well with younger players like 20-year-old Leipzig centre-back Joško Gvardiol, widely regarded as one of Europe’s best young defenders and already a regular in the Bundesliga and La Champions League.

He’s not the only new face with German ties.

Last year, the German side hoped to sign left-back Borna Sosa, who played for Stuttgart and qualified for a passport thanks to his German-born mother. Just before the European Championship, however, it became clear that he did not meet FIFA eligibility rules.

After numerous apologies on the Croatian FA website and fine performances for Croatia, including a goal in the 2-1 win over Denmark in September, the 24-year-old Stuttgart defender is a valued member of the team.

There’s also German-born right-back Josip Stanišic, increasingly a Bayern Munich and Croatia first-team player.

AIMING HIGH With 3.8 million inhabitants, less than Oklahoma, Croatia has the second smallest population of the 13 European nations at the World Cup (only Wales has fewer inhabitants).

Despite their relatively small size, Croatia are regulars at major tournaments, having missed just one World Cup since finishing third on their debut in 1998 following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Croatia’s recipe for success includes a passionate football fan base and elite youth academies at clubs like Champions League regulars Dinamo Zagreb.

Close ties with the Croatian diaspora abroad have allowed Croatia to rely on players like Rakitic, who was born and raised in Switzerland, or Stanišic and Austrian-born young midfielder Luka Sucic.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)