MOSCOW, July 14 (Reuters) - A guide to the Croatia starting 11 ahead of the World Cup final against France.
Danijel Subasic, goalkeeper, 43 caps, 0 goals
The Monaco goalkeeper can make a valid claim to be Croatia’s hero to this point. Subasic became only the second goalkeeper to save three penalties in a shootout at the World Cup in the last-16 victory over Denmark, matching the feat of Portugal keeper Ricardo against England in 2006. Then, while carrying an injury, he saved one penalty in Croatia’s shootout success over Russia in the quarter final. Subasic also has a better minutes-per-goal-conceded ratio than his final counterpart Hugo Lloris.
Ivan Strinic, full back, 48 caps, 0 goals
Often left exposed by the very attack-minded Ivan Perisic ahead of him, Strinic struggled with marauding England wing-back Kieran Trippier in the first half of the semi final in Moscow, but was much more solid for the remainder of the match as Croatia turned things around. No Croatian player has made more tackles throughout the tournament than the defender, who less than two weeks ago became an AC Milan player.
Sime Vrsaljko, full back, 40 caps, 0 goals
A key cog in the well-oiled Atletico Madrid unit, Vrsaljko has become one an experienced part of another solid defensive side for his national team. His crossing prowess cannot be underestimated either, having provided the pinpoint delivery for Ivan Perisic to equalise against England in the semi final.
Domagoj Vida, centre back, 64 caps, 4 goals
The Besiktas defender has courted controversy in Russia, and was forced to apologise after speaking out in support of Russia’s neighbour and adversary Ukraine following Croatia’s quarter-final victory over the host nation. On the pitch, Vida has made the most interceptions of any Croatian in Russia, with his basic approach - making two more clearances than any team-mate against England - setting him apart.
Dejan Lovren, centre back, 45 caps, 2 goals
Upon reaching the final, Lovren declared himself one of the world’s best defenders, and after the World Cup he has had, there is some credence to his claim. Lovren won almost double the number of aerial duels of any team-mate against England, including a crucial header at the death in extra time, with England desperate to equalise. Lovren has made more blocks in the tournament than any Croatia player and showed improved composure on the ball.
Ivan Rakitic, midfield, 98 caps, 15 goals
The indestructible Barcelona midfielder played his 70th match of his season in the semi final and, after 120 minutes of lung-busting running, Rakitic celebrated as energetically as a man with half that number of games under his belt. Statistically, Rakitic has performed superbly in Russia, with only Luka Modric bettering him on chances created and completed passes, no player has made more tackles, and only Ivan Perisic has taken more shots at goal. The Barcelona man is everywhere.
Marcelo Brozovic, midfield, 40 caps, 6 goals
One of the key components in the Croatia midfield, Brozovic provides that defensive protection that allows Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric scope to get forward and utilise their passing ability to devastating effect. Not always the first name on the team sheet, Brozovic keeps Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic out of the team, fitting into Zlatko Dalic’s system perfectly.
Luka Modric, midfield, 112 caps, 14 goals
A master of his craft. The Real Madrid orchestrator-in-chief has known no bounds in Russia, covering a colossal 63 kilometres so far in the tournament - more than any other player. Only three players in Russia have created more chances than Modric, who has created double the number of chances of any team-mate. Remarkably, as well as being Croatia’s most creative player, Modric is third for tackles (9), third for interceptions (8) and second for recoveries (48) in the Croatia squad. In one pass, Modric can simply unlock any defence.
Ivan Perisic, forward, 72 caps, 20 goals
The man for the big occasion. Following on from his last minute winner against Iceland to seal top spot in Group D and three wins out of three in the group stage for Croatia, Perisic then popped up with a vital equaliser against England to turn the match on its head. The experienced Inter Milan forward has often been the man his nation turns to, having either scored or assisted in 10 goals for Croatia at major tournaments - the joint most with Davor Suker.
Ante Rebic, forward, 21 caps, 2 goals
For those who were not completely up to speed with Rebic’s talents, the Eintracht Frankfurt forward announced himself to the world with a brilliantly taken opener against Argentina and has been a thorn in many a left back’s side throughout the tournament. He gave England’s Ashley Young such a torrid time in the second half of the semi final that the full back had to be replaced late on.
Mario Mandzukic, striker, 88 caps, 32 goals
By far and away his country’s current leading marksman, Mandzukic has saved his World Cup goalscoring for the knockout rounds in Russia, with the opener against Denmark in the last 16, before arguably the most important goal of his career - the winner against England in the semi final. The fact that, at 33, Mandzukic was still alert enough to react fastest to the loose ball to score typifies the determination of the Juventus striker, who also ranks fourth in the list of Croatians for tackles won. (Reporting by Richard Martin)