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By Daniel Heinrich

Team: Croatia

Nickname: Vatreni (The Blazers)

World Cup appearances:  4 (Finished 3rd in 1998)

World Ranking: 20

Coach: Zlatko Dalić

Captain: Luka Modrić

Leading goal scorer: Mario Mandžukić (30)

Most capped player: Luka Modrić (106)

Qualification path to Russia:
Croatia finished second behind Iceland in Group I of the European World Cup Qualifiers with 20 points. Both teams will again meet in the group stage in Russia. Croatia were forced into a play-off qualification for the World Cup, in which they defeated Greece 4-1 over two legs.

Player to watch: Luka Modrić
The Real Madrid star and Croatian captain is coming off another stellar season having played an integral role in his club lifting a third consecutive Champions League title. Modrić was recently labelled by current Ukrainian Head Coach Andriy Shevchenko as “one of the best midfielders ever”. The playmaker will be at the heart of Croatia’s midfield and will be eager to show his class on the world stage by leading his country into the knockout stages of the competition.

NowUC Predictor: Round-of-16
Despite needing to qualify via the play-offs, Croatia’s national team currently consists of many household names such as Ivan Perišić (Inter Milan), Ivan Rakitić (Barcelona), Mario Mandžukić (Juventus), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool) and Luka Modrić (Real Madrid). This makes them hard to overlook against opponents Nigeria and Iceland, and they have a strong enough outfit to finish second in Group D behind Argentina. This could set them up for a Round-of-16 clash with one of the tournament favourites, France, who will be hard to beat.

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