Croatia did not only replicated their 1998 World Cup performance but went one step further as the outsiders came close to winning their first ever FIFA World Cup.
Although they ultimately lost to mighty France 4-2 in a final that highlighted Croatia’s inspiration, passion, resilience all over the pitch, they dominated the sports news all over the world, marking a new beginning in the Croatian football.
It was magical for a nation that came close to winning. Despite the heartbreak in the Final of the FIFA World CUup 2018, they received a hero’s welcome after returning home. Their President ruled the news section with her spirit and connection with the football side.
Croatia was superb all throughout and deserves every bit of accolade. Nobody could match their spirit to make a comeback and clinch the fight. They repeated their heroics in a spectacular fashion before falling down against the best side in Russia.
The Success of Croatia in the World Cup defied the odds. Reaching the finale in itself was a major achievement for a nation that gained independence in 1991. After all, Croatia did not have any proper facility for the national team to train together.
Unlike, other football playing nations, Croatia has no general programme to educate young players systematically despite having many talented youngsters. Finally, many clubs in Croatia have financial problems.
So what is next for the finalists in Russia?
Is Euro 2020 a possibility?
After a stunning performance, the World Cup runners-up would definitely like to replicate its World Cup heroics in the European Championship’s next edition and lift their maiden international trophy.
The World Cup could give Croatia the momentum and experience to become a major contender for the Euro Cup in 2020. The main question, of course, will be whether Dalić will remain the head coach of the national team.
Furthermore, several of the key players are in their mid-30s. The Euros might be the last chance for this generation to win something but could also be already a step too far for the likes of Mario Mandzukic (32) and Luka Modric (32).
Croatia has always been deemed a country that had a great collection of individuals but were unable to form the individuals into a collective. That is something that changed at this tournament and the 2020 show promises something big.
What next for Croatia?
What about the next World Cup or even the European Championships? The main question will be whether Croatia’s football will install a long-term plan that allows the country to produce young and talented players. Furthermore, will head coach Dalic be entrusted with the job in the long-term?
There seems to be no doubt that Croatia will keep Dalic as the head coach for now. But in the past, the Croatian football federation has been a trigger-happy association and a poor tournament in two years, or even some defeats in the qualification, could mean the end of the coach.
But they should enjoy the moment now and start their groundwork for 2020, before thinking about the World Cup in Qatar.
Coach Dalic needs to be given time
Hence, long-term stability starts with the coach Dalic needs to be given the room to grow as a coach and build a new generation of players.
Croatia needs to build a core team of which most of the players will be playing at Qatar. Two of their star players Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will be 36 and 34 years old respectively during the next World Cup. Even if the central midfielders represent their country in 2022, the age might affect their sumptuous playing ability.
Also, players like Mario Mandzukic, Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perisic will be above 30 in 2022. Younger players like Mateo Kovacic and Ante Rebic will likely be the new leaders of the next generation of players.
Dalic needs time to focus on what he has to build, besides doing with what he develops over time. The main focus here should be the 2020 European Championships and take it from there.
What for the players and the future?
Kovacic, however, struggles for playing time at the club Real Madrid and may have to make a step to a different club to fulfil his potential.
Ante Rebić, in the meantime, is among the biggest discoveries of this tournament. The Eintracht Frankfurt winger has been the subject of transfer rumours. But another year in Frankfurt and then a step to a European powerhouse might be the best way to develop his skills.
In defence, the likes of the 21-year-old Duje Caleta-Car, who just completed a €20 million move from Salzburg to Olympique Marseille, and the 22-year-old Tin Jedvaj from Bayer Leverkusen will likely form the centre-back pair of the future. Both have immense talent and will ensure that the future is bright in defence.
Finally, up front, Croatia has always produced some of the best strikers on the planet. Whether Mandzukic will still be able to play at the 2022 World Cup remains to be seen – although the German Miroslav Klose won his first World Cup aged 36. As for a potential replacement look no further than Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric.
Kramaric has had another fantastic season in Germany and at 27 will be 31 in four years at a perfect age to lead the front-line. Furthermore, Croatia has always produced fantastic strikers and without a doubt will continue to do so.