Since forming their first national squad in the early 90's, to their dire form of 2006, Croatia as a nation as well as a footballing institution have come along way, which has seen the chequered mottled nation reach a World Cup semi-final. This time round, in 2014, Niko Kovac will aim to emulate the success of Miroslav Blazevic, who once guided a side (with exquisite talents such as Jarni and current boss Kovac, who graced the top sides in Europe, making up Croatia's golden generation) to a third place in finish in the '98 World Cup. However, with the World Cup days away, Europe's elite have been availing of Croatia's top talents, similarly to 1998, with Modric, Kovacic, and Mandzukic currently playing for highflying Madrid, Inter, and Bayern.
As far as major tournament appearances go, Croatia are fairly inexperienced, with this summer being the nations seventh outing on the international stage. Three World Cups has seen 'Vatreni' get out of the group stage once, reaching the semi-final that specific year, with memorable victories over Holland and Germany. In addition, while performing on the European stage, they've been eliminated at the group stage on two occasions, including their last European outing in 2012, which saw 'Vatreni' bow out to the hands of eventual finalist Italy and Spain, despite earning praise for their individuality. Two years on, they've finally come of age.
In a difficult group, Croatia finished second behind the imperative Belgian side, who are destined for glory. Croatia performances ranged from the brilliant to the brutal, with victories against Serbia and a demoralising defeat at the hands of Scotland. They were handed a relatively easy play-off tie, as they overcame a poor Icelandic side, to return to the global stage this summer.
A stern defensive performance is always crucial to any nation's attempt to have a successful World Cup campaign. Casillas, Buffon, Dida and Kahn have been some of the many superb goal keepers who have brought their nations to World Cup glory. During every side's World Cup campaign comes a time whereby the backs are against the wall, and just as all hope looks to capitulate, a 'keeper may keep his side adrift of surrender. That's the difference. This year, Croatia will most likely employ Danijel Subasic in between the sticks.
The 29-year-old has been an integral part of Monaco's rise, as the French side have surged from Ligue 2 to finishing runners up to PSG in Ligue 1 this season. An unsung hero, Danijel Subasic, could again be catalyst for the success that Croatia are due this summer.
Croatia's strong defence is built solely on the leadership qualities that captain Srna possesses. The most capped Croatian, Srna, who currently plays his trade at Shakhtar Donetsk, will captain his nation this summer. Croatia aren't just a one-trick-pony when delving into the defence. Southampton centre back, Lovern will be a huge success in Brazil this summer, with the former Lyon centre back on the back of a fantastic season with Southampton. The Croatian has earned interest from Premier League high flyers Liverpool, and the towering defender will be on high-alert to impress his suitors.
An unpopular opinion, the midfield trio of Modric, Kovacic, and Rakitic is undoubtedly one of the most impressive line-ups we'll see this summer. The trio have everything, with exquisite energy, immaculate passing and majestic skill. The trio, who have racked up 141 appearance between them, will be on everyone's look-list, come June 12th.
On the back of his best season yet in his professional career, the little magician, Modric, has been at the heart of Real Madrid domestic and European success this season, helping his side to their La Decima. Modric will give Croatia the edge in midfield over any team, with his energy providing an attacking threat, as well as posing sufficient defensive components to ensure a a superb defensive display.
Rakitic has had a phenomenal season, being instrumental yet again for Seville, as his Spanish side lifted the Europa League. Rakitic has the ability to perfectly intricately cut open a defence. However, in Kovac's tactics, some can see Rakitic being employed to play as a typical box-to-box midfielder.
Kovacic will offer an element of surprise for this brilliant Croatian side, with the teenager on the back of a simply superb season with Inter Milan, on a personal note for the creative midfielder. The strong runner is hard to stop once in full flow, with his close control, strength, pace and skill creating the perfect formula for the youngster who is likely to start as the most advanced of the midfield trio.
The obvious choice for Croatian's number nine is Bayern Munich's Mandzukic, however, the inform striker is set to miss the opening game of the tournament against Brazil, with media still unknown to who will replace the front man. Jelavic and Eduardo will undoubtedly battle it out to start the game, which promises to be a historic occasion.
The squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa), Igor Bubnjic (Udinese).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Niko Kranjcar (Queens Park Rangers), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Hamburg), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split), Sammir (Getafe).
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull City), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina), Duje Cop (Dinamo Zagreb).
Croatia have been thrown into a difficult group with tournament favourites Brazil keeping them company. Mexico will provide tough competitions for finishing second in this group with Cameroon mostly likely just going to make up the numbers.
I can definitely see Vatreni making it out of their group as runners up, but can't see them going any further.