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COUNTDOWN 3: Modric looking to emulate France ’98 feat

COUNTDOWN 3: Modric looking to emulate France ’98 feat
June 09
21:16 2014
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If the ever-demanding Croatian fans are to see their country replicate the dizzying height of third place earned at France 1998 — their maiden World Cup appearance — the man to direct the orchestra will be Real Madrid playmaker, Luka Modric.

The 28-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has different sets of skills. A technically-gifted player, he is a creative playmaker with great vision who can find the pass that would change the course of the game, either from distance or near; and can also hit a pile driver with both feet. He has grown in stature this season for club and country, being the focal point of many attacks, and he has laid on over 10 assists for his team mates drawing on his driving runs from the middle of the park.

The creative midfielder was the protagonist as his club won the Copa del Rey against Barcelona. The former Dinamo Zagreb youngster was also in the thick of all things attacking when ‘The Whites’ won the UEFA Champions league. He will be relied upon to lift Croatia back into limelight on the world stage.

Qualifying for Brazil 2014 was no smooth sailing for Croatia. After a good start which included five wins and a draw in their opening six fixtures, the Vatreni stumbled and only had to hang onto second place. Coach Igor Stimac, a legendary player, was replaced by another legend Niko Kovac after the poor run of form; and the former Croatia international helped dispatch Iceland 2-0 in the play-offs.

Croatia have never been short of quality players from the days of Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki when they saw off the might of Argentina, Germany and Holland at France 1998. Absence from the 2010 edition has not diminished their status as a sleeping giant of Europe, and they have the stars and youngsters to prove it. Apart from Modric, Mario Mandzukic of Bayern Munich, Ivica Olic, Eduardo Da Silva and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic can compete with the best any day.

Although thrown into the deep end of the fire for his first games in charge, 42-year-old Niko Kovac, a former Bayer Munich central midfielder, has passed impressively and it is hoped that his no-nonsense approach as a player will rub off on the team in Brazil.

Strength

The midfield is where everything happens for Croatia. The trio of Modric, Rakitic and youngster Kovacic are tactically flexible and can swap places to wreak havoc at any point in a match. They can shoot it from distance and also work it into the box for simple tap-ins within the 6-yard box, the presence of Mandzukic, a fox in the box, aiding that cause.

Weakness

Most of the defenders at the country’s service are on the wrong side of 30 and this has led to the team throwing away leads. Also, Mandzukic will be suspended for the first game of the tournament, following his red card during the play-offs; the absence of a striker of similar pedigree could cost them.

Last line

Watch out for 19-year-old midfield general, Mateo Kovacic. The youngster has the attributes of Modric and has the body to protect the ball already. Expect the Croatians to also push Brazil in the opening game; don’t rule out a surprise positive result for the Balkan nation either. They can ruin the party altogether!

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