Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Meet the Team: Croatia

Nickname: The Vaterini or Blazers are either a very well dressed squad, a pot smoker's dream team, or a shot at Craig Sager and that team from Portland.

Neither of these men is Darijo Srna
Star: Tempting as it is to just pick Darijo Srna and make a Game of Thrones joke, the pick has to be Luka Modrić who has slowly transformed into a midfield star among Los Galacticos of Real Madrid. His power, pace and accuracy have made him invaluable both to Real and to Croatia, making him a marked man this summer.

Hip-Star: One of our targeted "transfer players to watch" in the Premiership this season, Dejan Lovren has been a valuable asset to Southhampton leading the defense to a solid 8th place finish (behind most of the "brand name" clubs) and will have to show up to inherit defensive leadership from Srna. But he earns the "Hip-Star" rating simply because we can say absolutely, "we were into Dejan Lovren, before it was cool to be into Dejan Lovren".

X-Factor: I'm convinced that Croatia's draw (A2) is the toughest draw of the tournament. Especially since they kick-off against hosts/favorites/national icon Brazil in Rio, then fly up to the jungle of Manaus and then back to the northeastern coast of Recife. That's a good long slog for anyone, and if Brazil shows up to play the psychological whammy may be enough to stop Croatia before they start.

Šuker at šenter
Coach: Niko Kovač segued rather nicely from captaining the Blazers to Coaching them. Even if it required his old pal Davor Šuker to install him, and even then just in a caretaker role. He's taken good care and helped them head their way to Brazil, but he'll make a heck of a fall guy if they falter.

History: After finally breaking from Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia moved hard and fast to the upper echelon's of European talent. They made the first competitive tournament they tried for (Euro 1996) and got third place at their first world cup (1998) behind the golden boot of Davor Šuker. Since then they've retreated to the middle of the pack both in Europe and on the World Cup stage, but are back for their third cup in four tries.

Food: There really isn't one Croatian cuisine as much as there are nine Croatian cuisines (one for each of the nation's main regions) and each is heavily influenced by the bigger nations around it. But in the spirit of pursuing the finest smoked/cased meats in all the world cup, we'd like to try the garlicky Češnovka.

Fool: Despite a rather rough war of independence, Croatia's been a solid and stable nation since 1995, and the government even recently backed a referendum recognizing gay marriage (the voters defeated it). There are accusations of corruption, but perhaps most dangerous is the Croatian mafia (so shadowy that even the internet doesn't know who's in charge). We'll point to Vukasin Despotavic widely believed to be behind carbombings of nosy journalists, and owner of a thoroughly villainous name--assuming he's still alive.

Best Case: Croatia rallies with a solid performance against Brazil in the opener, and though they lose, they clearly have motivation and talent to carry them past Cameroon and Mexico into the second round. There, a beaten down Group B winner (Spain, Chile, Holland) is ripe for the picking and a quarterfinal run renews national optimism.

Worst Case: The opener is a drubbing, Modrić gets hurt, Srna looks ten years older than he already is, and Cameroon and Mexico-smelling blood--give them more of the same. Manager Kovač applies for asylum in Brazil, rather than face the furious fans back home.

My prediction: Croatia makes a habit of countermanding all my expectations for them, so they'll be glad to know I don't think they can get out of the group. An opening whoopin' from Brazil and motivated Cameroon can knock them out, but a win over Mexico will be some solace. 3rd Place--3 points.

Added Bonus: In case you're wondering what the heck everyone is saying in these raps, here's one from Croatia with the actual lyrics underneath, Shorty Dok Dunav's "While the Danube Flows"

No comments: