First of all, relax — This is part of a four-post series making the case for each of four World Cup semifinalists in their respective bids to win the 2018 edition of the tournament.
That said, let’s talk about why Croatia will be lifting the World Cup trophy on July 15 in Moscow.
[ RECAP: Croatia outlasts Russia ]
Croatia’s path to the World Cup semifinals has seen two rounds of decent fortune after a group stage of dominance.
Vatreni could’ve knocked Denmark out with a late penalty kick before persevering from the spot, and Russia was a very difficult combatant in its home World Cup, but the team that clobbered Nigeria and Argentina before wearing down Iceland has had to show a bit more mettle in the knockout rounds despite facing two less-than-powerful opponents.
Now comes England, which picked up an impressive win against Sweden but has yet to knockoff a marquee opponent. Colombia was without James Rodriguez, Sweden had a good tournament but missed its retired superstar in LA, and both Tunisia and Panama weren’t exactly great shakes.
So it’s reasonable to wonder whether France or Belgium is a better final opponent for Vatreni. Like France, one of the best cases for a Croatian title comes in the form of a prolific striker who is yet to deliver much: Croatia has 10 goals at the tournament but only one belongs to Mario Mandzukic.
And then there’s the trio of players at the back end of their career primes: Ivan Perisic (29), Ivan Rakitic (30), and Luka Modric (32). The latter has looked like a man with a body 10 years his junior and a wisdom 20 his senior, and the trio is performing with the tenacity manager Zlatko Dalić showed at defensive mid during his well-traveled playing career.
Throw in fiery goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and a “greater than the sum of its parts” defensive corps, and Croatia can get the job done twice in the next week.