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England travel to Croatia on Friday in the Uefa Nations League, looking to avenge their defeat against the Blazers in this summer’s World Cup semi-final.

For those who didn’t already know, the game will be played behind closed doors at the Stadion HNK Rijeka. This is due to a punishment handed down to Croatia back in 2015 when a swastika was marked onto the pitch before a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy.

Croatia are serving a two-match order to play their games behind closed doors, with their last Uefa-sanctioned home game coming against Bulgaria in October 2015.

But enough of the off-the-field drama, you want to know about what is happening where it counts – on the pitch.

With Croatia going from World Cup finalists to a 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Spain in just under two months, Squawka has taken a look at whether the Adriatic nation has had its moment in the sun, or whether Fifa’s fourth-highest ranked team in the world (at present) are ready for a permanent seat at football’s top table.

Which Croatia players retired after the World Cup final?

Player: Mario Mandzukic

Caps: 89

Goals: 33

Mario Mandzukic was recently nominated for the Ballon d’Or but Croatia will have to do without their target man from now on. That will come as music to the ears of England fans, with the 32-year-old bagging the winning goal in that semi-final. Mandzukic also managed to score a goal in the final against France – bringing his total for the tournament to three – and the first-ever own goal in a men’s World Cup final.

Player: Danijel Subasic

Caps: 44

Clean sheets: 22

“I want to allow my teammates, who wait for their chance like I did, to make their dreams come true and play for Croatia. They are Croatia’s future.” Those were the words of Danijel Subasic as he announced his retirement shortly after the World Cup final.

Croatia have leaked seven goals in two games since the Monaco stopper called it a day on the international level and the three goalkeepers named in their current squad – Dominik Livakovic, Simon Sluga and Karlo Letica – have just a solitary cap between them. It will be interesting to see which of these inexperienced ‘keepers fill the gloves of Subasic.

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Player: Vedran Corluka

Caps: 103

Goals: 4

After winning 103 caps in 12 years, it really does seem like Vedran Corluka has been around forever – especially for English football fans as the 32-year-old left the English game six years ago. However, he will not be donning the red and white jersey anymore after calling time on his international career in August.

Which players are left from Croatia’s old guard?

Player: Luka Modric

Caps: 115

Goals: 14

Those three retirements may have damaged Croatia, but none of them have hurt like the retirement of Luka Modric would have – and eventually will do. The 33-year-old is an epitome of class in midfield and has been the lynchpin of both Croatia and Real Madrid over the past few years. His recent individual accolades include the World Cup Golden Ball for best player at the tournament, as well as being voted as the 2018 Men’s Player of the Year in Fifa’s ‘the Best’ awards.

Player: Ivan Rakitic

Caps: 100

Goals: 15

Ivan Rakitic may be Modric’s El Clasico rival at club level but he is the Real Madrid man’s unwavering midfield sidekick on the international stage. Rakitic may not possess the god-like ball-playing skills that Modric has been blessed with (then again, who does?) but he still one of the best midfielders in the world and also has a tough streak that makes him the perfect midfield accomplice to Modric. England will have to tread carefully if they are to avoid being taught a footballing lesson by these two.

Player: Ivan Perisic

Caps: 75

Goals: 22

During that World Cup semi-final, it seemed, at times, that England were up against some sort of ethereal being when trying to deal with Ivan Perisic. The Inter Milan forward bagged the equaliser for Croatia in the 68th minute, setting them on their way for a comeback victory, and netted three times at Russia 2018.

Perisic has 22 goals in 74 caps for Croatia, making him the highest scorer in their current squad and the fourth most prolific of all time, and will likely be giving England players nightmares at the thought of having to face him again.

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Who are the torchbearers that will continue to fly the Croatian flag?

Player: Mateo Kovacic

Caps: 48

Goals: 1

Modric and Rakitic may be the midfield veterans that take a lot of the limelight but that doesn’t mean Croatia aren’t blessed with other top-class midfielders and Mateo Kovacic certainly falls into that category.

The 24-year-old already has 48 caps for his country and looks rejuvenated on loan at Chelsea under the management of Maurizio Sarri. Kovacic has a passing repertoire that is second-to-none, while his shoulders, which are built more like brick walls than body parts, give him the strength to outmuscle some of the strongest opponents.

Player: Marcelo Brozovic

Caps: 42

Goals: 6

Another part of Croatia’s embarrassment of riches in midfield is Marcelo Brozovic. He isn’t as flash as Luka Modric, while he isn’t as strong as Mateo Kovacic. However, Brozovic possesses a footballing brain so strong that he doesn’t need any of that.

The 25-year-old, whether it be for Inter or Croatia, hovers around the base of midfield, blocking opposition passing lanes, transitioning his side from defence to attack in an instant and is one of the true unsung heroes of both teams.

Player: Sime Vrsaljko

Caps: 43

Goals: 

Sime Vrsaljko has had his troubles on the domestic front, struggling to dislodge veteran right-back Juanfran and then being loaned out to Inter Milan but, for Croatia, he has been nothing short of brilliant.

Vrsaljko proved at the World Cup that he is not afraid of a strong challenge, while his athleticism and unrelenting will to keep running made him a threat as an attacking full-back throughout the tournament. The 26-year-old will be a big miss for Croatia against England through injury but is almost certain to be their undisputed right-back for years to come.

Who are Croatia’s most exciting young talents?

Player: Nikola Vlasic

Caps: 2

Goals: 

After facing Everton for Hadjuk Split in the qualifying stages of last season’s Europa League, Nikola Vlasic moved to Goodison Park for a reported £10m. The 21-year-old was somewhat misused by Ronald Koeman, David Unsworth and Sam Allardyce during their respective spells in the Everton dugout, however, and Vlasic has now been farmed out on loan to CSKA Moscow.

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This seems to have given Vlasic a new lease of life and the 5’10” pocket-rocket has scored three goals in eight games so far this season, including the winner against Real Madrid in the Champions League recently. Wonder what Luka Modric was thinking?

Vlasic will surely be a shoo-in for the Croatia squad if he keeps up his new-found form.

Player: Ante Coric

Caps: 4

Goals: 

Ante Coric is yet another player from the Dinamo Zagreb production line. After making 143 appearances for the Croatian champions, the 21-year-old got his big move this summer, joining Italian giants AS Roma.

Coric is blessed with a natural calm on the ball, impressive passing range and his versatility allow him to play in pretty much any area of midfield. All of this, along with his mature performances for the Giallorossi in pre-season, has lead to the belief that Coric could be the club’s long-term replacement for Kevin Strootman.

Player: Borna Sosa

Caps: 

Goals: 

Borna Sosa joined German Bundesliga side Stuttgart for a reported £5.40m in the summer and has very quickly made his mark on the first team, making four league appearances so far this season.

Sosa was capped for the Croatian U17 side aged just 15 and has progressed through their youth ranks ever since. Despite the unwavering efforts of Ivan Strinic, left-back is seen as a problem area in Croatia and the 20-year-old Sosa is looking more-and-more like the man who will plug that long-standing gap.

Verdict

With the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic set to be around for a while yet, as well as Modric and Rakitic likely to play through the next tournament cycle, Croatia should remain a strong force in international football for quite a while. Whether they stay there or not, however, is all down to the development of the likes of Nikola Vlasic and Ante Coric.

What do you think about the future of Croatian football? Let us know via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The post Are Croatia a busted flush or a footballing super-power that is here to stay? appeared first on Squawka News.

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