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2014 World Cup team preview: Croatia

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Getting to know… Croatia: Their pedigree as a soccer nation is undoubted as they’ve already made it to the World Cup semifinals despite only being a registered FIFA nation since 1993. At France ’98 a Davor Suker inspired Croatia lost to hosts France in the final four but won plenty of fans. The former Yugoslav nation has only failed to qualify for one World Cup tournament, that was the last time out in South Africa. In their three World Cup appearances they finished third in 1998 but failed to make it out of the group in 2002 and 2006. With a talented squad and a great work ethic, they will be hoping to make it to the last 16, at least.

Record in qualifying: Qualified via the UEFA playoffs after finishing second in Group A of qualifying behind Belgium. Croatia beat Iceland 2-0 over a two legged playoff to qualify for the World Cup, sealing their place with a 2-0 win in Zagreb during the second leg.

What group are they in? Croatia are in Group A along with Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon in a group they will be hoping to make it out of. After Brazil, the hosts are expected to win this group at a canter, Croatia seem to be the next strongest side. However Cameroon and Mexico are no pushovers. The Croats know they are in a scrap for second place but do have the chance to play spoiler in the opening game of the tournament against hosts Brazil.

Game schedule: Group A

12 June, 16:00, Sao Paulo – Brazil vs. Croatia
18 June, 15:00, Manaus – Cameroon vs. Croatia
23 June, 16:00, Recife – Croatia vs. Mexico

Star player: Luka Modric

The Real Madrid midfielder is an absolute machine and has had a magnificent season in the engine room. In the UEFA Champions League final Modric was arguably the best player on the pitch as he buzzed around, tackled ferociously, passed with precision and dragged Real back from the dead to win the UCL crown. He runs and runs and runs. Able to let fly from distance and thread balls through to strikers such as Mario Mandzukic, opposition teams will try to man-mark Modric out of the game… good luck!

source: AP
Modric is a machine in midfield. Can he deliver for Croatia this summer?

Manager: Niko Kovac

Taking charge of the playoff games to get Croatia to the World Cup, former national team captain Kovac and his brother Robert steered the Croats to the finals. Igor Stimac was fired acrimoniously by the federation in 2013 but after the Kovac’s (both former Croatian internationals who played at the 2002, 2006 World Cup) worked wonders with Coratia’s U-21 side, they did the same with full national team. Passionate and having a wealth of experience on the international stage, Kovac will use all of that to help Croatia succeed this summer.

Secret weapon: Strong defense.

Even though they struggled through qualifying, Croatia’s man issue was a lack of goals. They didn’t concede more than two goals in any game since qualifying began back in September 2012. With Dejan Lovren having a fine season in the Premier League and veteran Darijo Srna back there, Croatia will be extremely tough to break down. Plus they have Brazilian born forward Eduardo (who used to play for Arsenal) up top to finish off any chances. He will be crucial, especially in the opener vs. his home nation as Mandzukic is suspended.

Prediction: Croatia will get out of Group A but it will not be easy. Their final group game against Mexico is likely to be pivotal as they battle El Tri for second spot. If Croatia can get their spine of experienced players firing, Srna, Modric, Mandzukic, then they have a chance of being a real dark horse in this tournament. They have done it before, why can’t they shock everyone again?

WATCH: Zlatan free kick gives Man Utd lead in EFL Cup Final

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates as he scores their second goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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It should’ve been an equalizer, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s EFL Cup Final opening goal was brilliant nonetheless.

Minutes after Manolo Gabbiadini was incorrectly ruled offside on a would-be opener, Oriel Romeu gave away a free kick from a bit more than 25 yards away from goal.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

The big Swede lorded over the opportunity with Paul Pogba, and elected to have a dig. Ibrahimovic curled it around the wall and past the fingertips of a diving Fraser Forster to put United ahead.

LIVE – Southampton, Manchester United in EFL Cup Final

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: A general overview of the stadium prior to the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Southampton looks to put icing on its incredible rise to the Premier League with an EFL Cup Final win on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Standing in their way? PL giants Manchester United, who could give Jose Mourinho his first full tournament title as Red Devils boss.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic starts up top for United, with Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford on the bench.

New Saints signing Martin Caceres makes the bench along with EFL Cup Team of the Tournament midfielder Sofiane Boufal, while Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond will be trusted in the Starting XI.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Rojo; Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Martial; Ibrahimovic. Subs: Romero, Blind, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Rashford.

Southampton: Forster, Cédric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis (c), Ward-Prowse, Tadić, Redmond, Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Long, Rodriguez, Caceres, Boufal, Hojbjerg, McQueen

Kane, Dele react to Spurs thrashing of Stoke

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with teammate Harry Kane during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli believe the side’s 4-0 win over Stoke City on Sunday is a good start in making amends for a lackluster Europa League exit.

That’s especially true for Dele, who was sent off in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Gent.

“I felt horrible after the game and at halftime I apologized to the boys,” Dele said. “I went to see the guy right after the game to see if he was alright.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-0 Stoke ]

Dele then scored Spurs’ fourth goal on Sunday, though he was a bit surprised to see hat trick hero Harry Kane slide the ball his way.

“We had a laugh at halftime,” Dele said. “I thought he was going to go for four.”

As for Kane, he was the clear cut star of the show in netting a hat trick before the break to help Spurs create a good feeling at White Hart Lane.

“It was important,” Kane said. “We wanted to come out and get back to winning ways. Thursday was very disappointing for us.”

As for the hat trick?

“Just trying to get my shots off,” he said. “Bit of luck with the third one but if you don’t shoot you don’t score.”

A bit of North London’s Wayne Gretzky in that quote.

Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 Stoke: Kane runs wild

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  • Kane tops 100 club goals
  • Dele Alli also scores
  • Cameron subs on for Stoke

Harry Kane and Tottenham Hotspur put on quite an advertisement for Sunday’s PL Download on NBCSN with an outright thumping of Stoke City at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Kane had a hat trick and an assist before halftime, as Spurs throttled Stoke 4-0.

The win moves Spurs back into second, 10 points back of leaders Chelsea and a point ahead of idle Manchester City. Stoke is 10th with 32 points.

USMNT back Geoff Cameron made his first appearance since Oct. 22, 2016, when he subbed into the game for the final nine minutes plus stoppage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane’s deft dribble in the 10th minute could’ve provided a goal but didn’t even bring a shot as Spurs got a bit too cute with passing inside the 18.

Stoke found a rare early chance minutes later, though Spurs had their angles covered and Joe Allen‘s rip into the side netting was largely a cosmetic offer.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli’s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

Hugo Lloris thwarted an offside but unflagged Peter Crouch on the doorstep in the 24th minute.

Jan Vertonghen and Kane each had chances before the half-hour mark, with the former belting one off the cross bar and the latter shaping an aesthetically-pleasing effort just wide of the frame.

Kane’e second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant. He added a third with a deflected free kick for his 102nd club goal.

Kane turned provider for Dele before halftime, racing past Bruno Martins Indi to send the youngster forward for a sliding goal. 4-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The second half started with a rough moment for Spurs, as stalwart center back Toby Alderweireld walked off injured. This on the day Vertonghen returned to the fold, and also left after little more than an hour.

Kane briefly left the match with an injury as well.