The Underdogs of Russia – Journey of the Croats
Finally the World Cup ends , the pomp and the vigorous preparations of the Russians was topped by the ever never cracking performances of all the countries involved in the World Cup. France were the tournament favourites and it was expected for a team which had been growing under the experience of Didier Deschamps for years. Their team was filled with ever growing , hard – working and talented players like Mbappe , Pogba , Griezmann , Loris etc who made the difference for their team , especially in the final. Their fans and their countrymen’s celebrations still ring in my ears as I watched the final with my father , in his food and bar. The sheer enthusiasm of these people who love the team like their own. That’s football for you.
However , my article is for the other team which made it to the finals , the team which defeated the expectations of its own fan base by defeating teams like Argentina ( Sending Messi for another perpetual emotional retirement ). The team which defeated another favourites of the World Cup , England. They did lose against the mighty Les Blues , but nevertheless , were my favourite team after Russia ( Coincidently , they defeated the Russians as well ) . I am talking of the Croatian national team , led by Luka Modric ( He won the golden ball )
Croatia has always been a team whose players have been amazing. The only problem being that only a few of them have come in the limelight and often a few like Luka Modric , Mario Mandzukic , Raktic , Strinc , Lovern etc. But they have always been overshadowed by their peers. However , the journey of the Croats have been no less than a difficult puzzle and capped by a beautiful performance which also saw them dominate the final as well. They have had their problems , one of their players were sent home for being egoistic , individualistic and arrogant. Their captain was someone who fought so many personal battles to lead his team so close to a victory. This was a team which truly justified the tag of a World Cup of the underdogs. Truly an amazing performance by a team , which itself never expected to reach the finals. That has to be considered a victory in itself for a team which made it through their first finals , in their history.
However , the journey of the Croats has been an inspiration from a lot of events which has transpired and simultaneously worked for them. In my article , I will be highlighting about three such cases which have directly worked in their favour and our out of the ambit of tactics and gameplay. Because their tactics were always of a well – oiled machinery , led by the charismatic Luka Modric , well known for playing his trade with Real Madrid. The indication that Croatia could manage something came from their victory over Argentina , in the group stage. That put the world in awe as a team , where Lionel Messi is the captain , lost to a side , which had no clue how this victory is going to shape up their progress and make them one of the ‘dark horses ‘ or the underdogs. Needless to say , people all around the world , who did not know a thing about this team started supporting them as they progressed through the next round and narrowly defeated the Russians , in the penalty shootout. Their semifinal victory truly impressed everyone around and many new borne fans decided to support them , purely because of their underdog tag or because they did not like the French team as such. Ultimately , their happiness was short lived as the French prevailed over them but their progress to the finals was impressive. For me , the real ‘success story ‘ of the World Cup is the Croats.
But why ? Let me explain. Football is a game played by a team , consisting of 11 players who are tactically told to play in a particular formation and designed to do specific tasks. The Croatian team had only 2 fit strikers , Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic. Kalinic got irritated in their first match when he was left on the bench and wasn’t starting for Croatia. He was arrogant enough to refuse to come for the final 5 mins of the first match and despite the coaching staff requesting him to apologise , he refused and stayed arrogant. He was removed by the football association and sent home. Such a foolish player he was , he was so sure that the Croatian team would never go through the group stage or at least the last 16 stages. He was busy updating his Instagram account and was showing how much he does not regret getting booted from the World Cup. Little did he know what this gem of a team would go through and have one of the most amazing world cups of their time. When the Croats defeated the English team , I am guessing the player would at least regret his foolishness. The Croatians made it through with one senior striker and his exit made them resolve their stance to never give up. The President of Croatia , Kolinda Grabar – Kitarovic attended every match and sat in the fan section and not in the VIP section. She travelled in the economy class and while this could be seen as a political move but in reality , it meant a great deal to the Croatian team. Such an amazing sport she was , she went and congratulated the French national team in sir dressing room. No doubt she was my next favourite leader after Vladimir Putin.
My last bit is for the captain of the national team and a personal favourite of mine , Luka Modric , number 10 jersey player of Real Madrid as well. A midfield dynamo and a genius in his own regard , this man has a very sad history prior to his career. When he was six years old , his grandfather was shot dead and his family became refugees in a war zone when the Croatian war of independence was fought , roughly from 1991 to 1995 between the Croatian loyalists and the Serb loyalists within the Serb controlled Yugoslav People’s Army. His family became refugees in the war as his childhood was spent with grenades bursting around and his family was in a terrible state. Naturally , Luka was a withdrawn player and shy , so much so that his coaches himself said that he is too thin and too weak to play football as there is a lot of physical activity involved in this game. Nevertheless , he made it through all this rough childhood and worked on his abilities and became a world star player , leading his team to their first final ever. So much was the versatility and the ability of this beautiful team that they had the majority of the possession in the final against a strong team like France , purely because of the tactics of their coach , Zlatko Dalic and the bright gems like Rakitic , Perisic , Kovacic , Vrsaljko , Brozovic , Mandzukic , Vida etc controlled the game and lost on the account of France and their counter attacking football. This is a team which had never expected to go to the quarters , let alone the finals.. Yet they made it.
The Croats might not have won the cup but they won our hearts and our respect for this is the beauty of football. Every bit of celebration the team receives when they go back , no matter what the mainstream tabloids want to interpret it , they deserve it more than anyone. And that is why , I shall follow up with a great line I read from a meme made on Kalinic…
” Don’t be like Kalinic “
Be humble , be like Modric.
Anhad is a 23 year old M.A (International Relations ) student and an amateur photographer
He loves playing and watching football , speaking , writing , taking part in discussions , comedy , foodie , animal lover amongst others.