All the attention is on the hosts ahead of the World Cup curtain raiser. Here are five reasons you should be paying more attention to their opposition.
Even by his standards, 2013/14 was Modric’s strongest season yet. He was arguably man of the match in both Real Madrid’s demolition of Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals & local rivals Atlético Madrid in the final. Modric is likely to be employed in a box-to-box role for Croatia, yet do not underestimate his ball retention capabilities and strength in the tackle. Both of these attributes will combine with his impressive passing and pace to make him central to Croatia’s counter attacking set-up against the seleção.
As he prepares to face his country of birth, there will inevitably be extra focus on Eduardo. However, in the wake of Mario Mandžukić’s suspension, he also finds himself as one of Croatia’s primary strikers for their opening match. The 31-year-old grew up in Rio, but took on Croatian citizenship in 2002 during his spell playing for Dinamo Zagreb and started playing for their under-21 side in 2004. He will be most familiar to Premier League followers for his promising stint with Arsenal, which was curtailed by injury. He has since impressed for Shakhtar Donetsk and scored 13 goals in 30 appearances for them last season. If he scores in Brazil against his country of birth then there will only be one narrative to pick out from the World Cup opener.
In Croatia’s remarkably creative midfield, it would take something special to keep Luka Modrić out of the headlines. Yet that is what this 26-year-old has achieved in the build up to this tournament. This might be partly connected to the fact that he has been linked to half of the Premier League in the last fortnight - but looks set to join Barcelona - or it could be that this man was central to Sevilla’s run to the Europa League title last season and therefore has the potential to make a serious impact in Brazil. Rakitić may not pass the ball as consistently as the more experienced Modrić, however this is because he is not afraid to go for the more ambitious pass - he was the fourth most creative player in la Liga last season. He’s therefore likely to be employed as Croatia’s primary instigator against Brazil and could cause the hosts a fair share of trouble
It is easy to focus on Croatia’s other worldly creative division, but ultimately their defence is likely to be to be their backbone against the World Cup hosts. It would therefore be folly to not focus on their captain and most capped player. Srna has taken on the number 11 for his country and is therefore likely to be an important cog in Croatia’s attacking unit as a right wing back, however his defensive attributes are what captured the attentions of Chelsea and Bayern Munich in 2009. Five years on, he has just turned 32, but is still a mainstay in Shakhtar Donetsk’s title winning squad. Expect him to excel in a counter-attacking set up against Brazil.
Croatia’s central midfield trio is completed by 20-year-old Kovačić. Touted as one of the hot prospects at the tournament, the Inter Milan midfielder is renown for his versatility - over the last year he has been employed as a box to box midfielder, winger and trequartista for the Italians. For Croatia, he is the most defensively-minded of this triplet threat midfield offering - so is likely to protect Croatia’s relatively fragile defence against Brazil. However, his talent will not be wasted in a defensive role; he is a superb tackler and excels on making mazy counter attacking runs.