Key Croatia team members Ivan Rakitic and Mandzukic spent their childhood days as refugees in Switzerland and Germany respectively. In December 1991, the Serbian army stormed through Modric's village, executing his grandfather among others
Back on 21 June, Croatia defender Dejan Lovren said that the current team can surpass the achievements of the 1998 outfit that finished third at FIFA World Cup in France.
Cut to 11 July. Croatia beat England to seal a berth in the final of FIFA World Cup 2018. While hopes were riding high on Belgium and England, apart from the traditional favourites Argentina, Brazil and Portugal, 'dark horse' Croatia managed to beat all odds to reach the final. And a major part of the credit goes to captain Luka Modric.
Modric may not be the flamboyant player that Cristiano Ronaldo is, but he has an innate ability to inspire the team to play as a unit. Former Croatia manager and a member of the team that reached the World Cup semi-final in 1998, Slaven Bilic understood this.
"He’s a player who makes others better. They all benefit from him being in the team. He’s not selfish, he’s playing for the team,” Bilic had said.
The current team has even surpassed the 1998 team, which consisted of players like Zvonimir Boban, Bilic and the goal machine Davor Suker. They became known as the 'golden generation'. They showed the world that a war-torn country can still be one of the best in the game, even with a limited talent pool.
However, even players from the golden generation believe that the current crop is their greatest hope for a World Cup victory. Boban had once said, "Modric is Croatia's player to watch. If Pirlo is important to Italy, then I can't even begin to imagine what Croatia would do without Modric."
Modric is, however, not alone in his campaign. He is ably supported by players like Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. The two were on target in the semi-final against England when the 'Three Lions' were already ahead in the game.
The Croatian team loves to play the aggressive game. This was made evident when Milan Badelj, a defender who has been a part of the Croatian squad in the 2014 World Cup, as well as the 2012 and 2016 Euros, scored the first goal against Iceland in the group stage.
Their journey into World Cup 2018 wasn't easy though. They came second in their qualifying group and thus had to qualify through the play-offs. In the play-offs, Croatia beat Greece 4-1. Once in the World Cup, they never looked back and the highlight of their campaign has been a 3-0 thrashing of the fancied Argentina.
What keeps the team together could also be the hardships the players and the country faced. Ivan Rakitic and Mandzukic spent their childhood days as refugees in Switzerland and Germany respectively. In December 1991, the Serbian army stormed through Modric's village, executing his grandfather among others. His home was burned to the ground and he had to flee with his family. Most of the players found solace in football, some claiming that it helped them through the pain.
And perhaps this is the reason they are such a formidable team: they bond together having faced such hardships, and because they have nothing to lose, they play fearlessly.
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Last Updated 13, Jul 2018, 5:26 PM