Adriatic nation hoping to go one better than 2018 final loss as clutch of stars readies for a likely last tournament bow.
Previous World Cup appearances: Five
Best finish: Runners-up (2018)
World Cup record: W11 D4 L8
World Cup goals: 35
Biggest win: 4-0 vs Cameroon (2014)
Player to watch: Luka Modric
Group stage fixtures: Morocco (November 23), Canada (November 27), Belgium (December 1).
Small but mighty Croatia will hope to follow up on their remarkable journey to the final four years ago and make inroads again at the Qatar World Cup 2022.
This year’s tournament will likely mark a last tilt at football’s most prestigious trophy for several key players, with the Adriatic nation expected to progress to at least the beginning of the knockout phase.
Previous World Cup appearances
Croatia has competed in five World Cups since the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, beginning with the 1998 tournament in France. They have featured in every tournament since, barring the 2010 edition, held in South Africa, for which they failed to qualify.
In 2018, the team weaved its way way to a first World Cup before losing to France.
Along the way, they picked up maximum points in the group stages with wins over Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland. That was followed by knockout wins against Denmark and Russia on penalties, before beating England in a hard-fought, semi-final victory secured in extra time.
Their journey to eventual runners-up represented the country’s best-ever performance, outdoing a semi-final appearance in 1998 which saw them again beaten by France.
Results in the last 10 games
Croatia enter the tournament in excellent form, having recently topped their UEFA Nations League group – containing France, Denmark and Austria – following a confidence-boosting run of victories against all three sides in the European competition.
Luka Modric will once again be critical to Croatia’s hopes of success.
The 37-year-old playmaker still pulls the strings for his team, captaining the side and engineering its attacking play from central midfield.
His creativity threatens to pose problems for even the best-organised teams and will be pivotal for a side better renowned for its midfield and defensive resources than its forward talent.
His influence at the 2018 World Cup was enormous. He scored two and registered one assist in a flurry of high-class performances that saw him recognised as the tournament’s best player with the Golden Ball award.
A hugely admired footballer, Modric was later the same year awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or, the highest individual accolade in the sport, and has also won an array of trophies at club level with Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Croatia is predicted to qualify with relative ease from Group F, alongside Belgium.
According to the latest Fifa rankings, the side is the 12th best in the world and their exciting blend of experienced stars – including Modric, winger Ivan Perisic and midfielder Mateo Kovacic – and promising youngsters is anticipated to prove too strong for Canada and Morocco.
Croatia – a football-loving country of four million people in which the sport has even been linked with the birth of the nation itself – has a history of dumbfounding expectations and battling its way past more illustrious rivals.
If the side can navigate its way through the round-of-16, momentum will gather for an unlikely, but certainly not impossible, run at a first World Cup title.