World Cup Class of 2018: Croatia

Population:  4.15 million
Capital:  Zagreb
Team Colors:  Red and White
How Qualified:  Won playoff vs. Greece
Nickname:  Vatreni (The Blazers)
5th World Cup
Head Coach:  Zlatko Dalic (CRO)
Key Players:  Ivan Rakitic (FC Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mario Mandzukic (Juventus)
Best Performance:  Third Place (1998)
Can they prove their worthy of being in the top tier? Croatia turned heads in 1998 by reaching the semifinals and looked to have one more upset in them against the hosts France, but Lillian Thuram scored his only two goals for France that night and Croatia was left to play for third. 
There has been one quarterfinal at Euro 2008 and a Round of 16 appearance at Euro 2016, but they have not advanced past the group stage in three subsequent World Cups following their 1998 run.
Croatia got off to a strong start in a tough qualifying group with Iceland, Turkey, and Ukraine; but it all unraveled after defeats to Iceland and Turkey and then a home draw to Finland helped Iceland towards automatic qualification and Croatia was in danger of not qualifying. 
Ante Cacic was replaced by Zlatko Dalic for the final group game against Ukraine and got the 2-0 result to put them in a playoff against Greece which they won on a 4-1 aggregate. 
Croatia has a top 20 ranking in the FIFA Rankings and are in the top tier when the UEFA Nations League begins in the fall. For the World Cup, they are in a tricky group with Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria. 
A lot will depend on Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, and Mario Mandzukic to provide the attack for Vatreni in what promises to be a fierce group and for them to prove that they are part of the top tier of European teams. They will need the form they had to start qualification and the form they needed to have against Ukraine and Greece to survive this group.
June 16:  vs. Nigeria in Kaliningrad (2pm CT on FS1/Telemundo)
June 21:  vs. Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod (1pm CT on FOX/Telemundo)
June 26:  vs. Iceland in Rostov-on-Don (1pm CT on FS1/NBC Universo)


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