Road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup was not easy for Croatia. It started off great, picking up 13 out of a possible 15 points after five games and were on top of the qualifying group comfortably. But most Croatian fans were still worried as Croatia had a coach in Ante Čačić who is not a great soccer minded coach. He really is poor with in game tactics, formations and player relations for the top international level. Things started to go south after the fifth game as Croatia would only pick up 4 points out of a possible 12 points in their next four games and were at risk of not qualifying for the World Cup at all. After drawing against Finland at home 1-1, Finland scored in the 90th minute to tie the game, Čačić was finally fired but the question was who would take over this team at a critical time like this? With only two days remaining until their final qualifying game against Ukraine it became a must win for Croatia in Kiev, Ukraine, due to the poor results in the last few qualifying games. If Croatia lost or drew against Ukraine, Croatia would have failed to qualify for the playoff round which also results in not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Only one man accepted the challenge and that was Zlatko Dalić; Croatia went into Ukraine and won 2-0 behind Andrej Kramarić’s two second half goals to send Croatia to the playoff round for World Cup qualifying. There Croatia would face Greece for a spot in the 2018 World Cup. Croatia in the first leg in Zagreb beat Greece 4-1 behind a fantastic performance from the team. In the second leg in Piraeus the game ended 0-0 meaning Croatia qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Even after getting out of a deep hole, Dalić knew that this talented team had an opportunity to do something special and would have been a shame if Croatia had not qualified for the biggest sporting event on the planet, the FIFA World Cup. This talented Croatian team with World Class players such as Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Ivan Perišić, Mario Mandžukić and Danijel Subašić deserve to be in Russia during the summer of 2018, playing in the FIFA World Cup. This is Croatia’s second golden soccer generation. Possibly could argue that this generation is better than the 1998 generation but all they needed was results to back up that statement.
June 16th, 2018 was Croatia’s first group match against Nigeria in which Croatia won 2-0 to kick start their World Cup campaign. First games are usually a tough one but they got the job done. Then came the 3-0 win over South American giants Argentina, this is the game in which the world started to see Croatia as a potential dark horse to win the World Cup. Then came the final group game, even with first place all but wrapped up Croatia were still able to beat Iceland 2-1 with 9 out of their first 11 players resting; only Modrić and Perišić started from the usual starting 11. Then came two straight penalty shootouts, both filled with high drama, against Denmark in the round of 16 and against the hosts Russia in the quarterfinals. In both games against Denmark and Russia Croatia trailed 1-0, but they responded both times quickly by equalizing and won in penalties both times. This team showed something that the previous Croatia teams did not have: strong mentality, strong character and never give up attitude. Then came the semifinal match up against England and were hit with a tough task straight from beginning as England scored in the 5th minute of the game to lead 1-0, once again Croatia starts off a knockout stage game trailing. This time Croatia did not respond quickly, but their play from the second half onwards was excellent and would soon reward them. In the 68th minute Perišić scored to level the game at 1-1 and then Mandžukić would score in the 109th minute to give Croatia the 2-1 lead and which later would prove to be the game winning goal that saw Croatia advance to their first ever World Cup final and first final at any major tournament. With this win over England, Croatia became the first team in history to come from behind in three straight knockout stage games and win the game at a single World Cup. This shows the mental toughness and willingness this whole team has. Croatia also became the 13th nation in the world and 10th European nation to appear in a FIFA World Cup final and the smallest nation to get to the finals since Uruguay did it in 1930 with a population around two million at the time.