Thursday, 24 November 2022

2022 World Cup Impressions from a Croatian Female Football Journalist in Qatar

November 24, 2022 - The media has had a lot to say heading into the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but what’s it really like on the ground? TCN Sports Editor Daniela Rogulj shares her impressions as a Croatian female football journalist in Qatar. 

There has been a lot said going into this World Cup, and I won’t bore anyone by repeating it. Having read many articles before I departed for Doha on November 21, I, too, was a bit nervous. From the rules in Qatar to the FIFA organization, how would the world's biggest football tournament play out?

I will begin by saying this - Qatar has exceeded my expectations. 

I arrived at 4 am on November 22, unsure how I would begin the journey to my accommodation in The Pearl district of Doha, located north of Hamad Airport. The metro didn’t start running until 6 am, meaning two hours to kill at the airport were inevitable. After disembarking the plane, there was undoubtedly some anxiety surrounding customs and having the correct documentation (which I checked 100 times). But the journey from the plane, through passport control and customs, was a breeze. I was off the plane and through customs in 15 minutes, along with several other Croatia fans. 

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Once I made it into baggage claim, hundreds of football fans from all over the world arrived too, at 4 am, enthusiastically wearing the jerseys of their national teams. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an airport so full of life at 4 am, with so many people on the ground, ready to help anyone who needed assistance find the right transportation to their accommodation. Free SIM cards were also handed out at the airport to all fans, valid for three days. A wonderful gesture that everyone appreciated. 

And another wonderful gesture? All public transport is free during the World Cup, making it easy for fans to get around by simply showing their Hayya Card. 

The 6 am metro to Legtaifiya Station, where I needed to connect to get the bus to The Pearl, was perhaps the cleanest metro I’ve seen. And it was packed with football fans and Qatari locals heading to work. A wonderful mix of fan atmosphere and everyday local life during the world's biggest tournament. 

Arriving in The Pearl without WiFi and relying on a GPS location sent by FIFA for my apartment building was... not the easiest time. It was 7 am, getting warm, and I was being spun into circles trying to find the building. Fortunately, I was able to catch a few locals walking their dogs at 7 am, who happily helped and directed me as best they could. I ended up in the wrong building anyway. The wonderful receptionist at the building spent 45 minutes with me to find the right building, as did lovely security guards along the way. This was by far the most stressful part of my time here, and it has been smooth sailing ever since. 

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My Accommodation 

Is a dream. I booked through the official FIFA media accommodation. While not cheap ($265/night), I have an enormous one-bedroom, 1.5-bath apartment with a full kitchen, TV, and balcony hovering over the heart of The Pearl. The Pearl area is a luxurious artificial island on the coast, built on one of Qatar’s previous major pearl diving sites, as Qatar was once a major pearl trader. The Pearl resembles a string of pearls, and it’s an absolute gem sprinkled with high-rise apartment buildings, luxury brands, and bustling shops and restaurants. Not to mention that everything stays open until at least 2 am, including restaurants and markets. No matter the hour, everyone is out having a good time. 

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The Locals

I've encountered the loveliest locals, and I can't say enough about how incredible they have been. Everyone has been beyond eager to help, with a smile. No matter where I’ve gone, from public transport to coffee shops or supermarkets, I have felt welcomed. They have given up their seats for me on the metro, escorted me to my final destination, and shared their mobile phone hotspots when I didn’t have service. Overall, the locals are proud to show their country to the world, and their genuine hospitality so far has been second-to-none. I've made an effort to speak to as many as I can. 

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The Prices 

Well, The Pearl isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s also about knowing where to go, which took a few days. For example, a large iced coffee in a tourist area can cost you 6 EUR, while around the corner, you can find it for half the price. The Monoprix supermarket near my accommodation can be compared to Whole Foods, though you can go to the Spar market just a few minutes further instead. A 1.5-liter bottle of water is just over 1 EUR. Meals average around 40-60 QAR, or 10 to 15 EUR, depending on where you decide to eat. You also have a world of choices depending on your budget, from Nando’s to Burger King and Fatburger or much nicer international restaurants. The food options are endless. 

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Media Perks

Indeed my experience as media is different from a fan, and there are definitely perks. Like media transport from my accommodation to the main media center. From there, I pick up a media shuttle to the stadium. The buses run frequently, and you can catch one every 15 minutes ahead of games. After the match, you hop back onto the media transport to the main media center. The only downside? Some stadiums take over an hour to get to. Buses back to the accommodations run every 30 minutes after the match. My bus journey is a bit longer compared to others staying in more central Doha areas, but all buses have WiFi and are beyond comfortable. If I catch a match at 10 pm, I return to my accommodation around 2 am.

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Media also has more affordable prices at the main media center. For example, a water bottle and Americano iced coffee cost me just over 2 EUR the other day, while there is also an affordable fresh buffet and grab-n-go sandwich options. 

Pro tip: Uber is also ridiculously cheap in Qatar, and many journalists have also been using the app to get around if they don't want to rely on media transport. 

The Matches

A big bonus to having the World Cup in a small country like Qatar is its accessibility, allowing fans and media to see as many games as they can - or two a day! I've applied for 11 games while I am here or one a day, mainly to ensure I have time on the laptop to deal with other commitments. TCN photojournalist Slobodan Kadić is hopping around to two a day, getting the most out of this World Cup experience.

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The stadiums are also as high-tech as you've seen on TV. I have been to two stadiums so far - Al Janoub for France v. Australia and Al Bayt for Morocco v. Croatia. 

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The Heat

Perhaps the only downside thus far, and not because it’s brutally hot. It’s been a comfortable 28-29 degrees Celsius since I arrived, but that doesn’t stop everyone from blasting the air con as if we were in 40+ temperatures. This has been especially tough for European journalists (and apparently teams) who aren’t used to air conditioning. I’ve noticed many blowing their noses while asking bus drivers to switch off the air completely. I almost feel as if I’m back in the United States.

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The Clothing

I was initially quite nervous about this aspect after reading countless blogs about the appropriate attire in Qatar, especially considering the high temperatures. So I packed accordingly, with long trousers, light denim jeans, and linens as often as possible. All t-shirts also cover my shoulders to respect the rules in place. However, it's not as strict as it was made out to be. May fans and ex-pats have walked around in tank tops and shirts, mixing with locals dressed far more conservatively. I haven’t seen anyone asked to cover up yet, though I know stricter rules apply in different areas. 

The Booze & Nightlife

While I have yet to experience it, I have spoken to many others here for the tournament or who have been here setting up for the last month. There are several places to find international beverages, from hotels to some pubs, as well as music festivals and DJ events running until the early morning hours. It seems to be a lot easier than many thought. The official FIFA fan zones also sell beer. I will make it there eventually. 

And have I been treated any differently as a female journalist here?

Absolutely not, even though our male counterparts hugely outnumber us. 

Overall, my time in Qatar has been better than I imagined. Here’s to another exciting eight days and much more to come. 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

"We're Ready": Zlatko Dalić Satisfied ahead of Croatia's First World Cup Match

November 22, 2022 -  Croatia meets Morocco in their first match of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday. Coach Zlatko Dalić and captain Luka Modrić addressed the press one day before the big game. 

Croatia's first 2022 World Cup match is on Wednesday against Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium. The teams meet at 13:00 local time. 

"There is no easy opponent here. We appreciate and respect Morocco, and we expect a tough match," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić ahead of the team's first World Cup match.

"We followed Saudi Arabia's win and Tunisia's draw. Everyone plays well, and surprises are possible. Therefore, we will enter with maximum respect," added Dalić. 

Croatia had only a week of preparations, but Dalić is satisfied with what was done.

"We used this time to get used to the conditions that awaited us. I am very satisfied. We are ready," Dalić said, revealing how he decided on the starting lineup. 

"We chose the highest quality in terms of energy and experience. We don't have any doubts anymore; the guys know the lineup. We have experience and energy, and we have a good mix. A challenging match awaits us. I believe we made the right choice," he said. "Livaja has also recovered and has no problems."

Dalić also spoke about Morocco's quality. 

"We analyzed them. They are a great team. They are well organized. They have great individuals in all positions. I don't want to comment on their decision to change the coach. Halilhodžić is an excellent coach, but that is their business."

According to the latest announcements, Morocco could play with a home atmosphere.

"I know that they will be particularly motivated and that they will have a lot of fans. We are careful and full of respect. We have to be at the maximum level."

Croatia arrived in Doha as the 2018 World Cup finalists and has a series of excellent results behind them. Dalić agreed that Croatia's rivals certainly look at them differently.

"We've had a lot of opponents, and they look at us better than before Russia. We are worthy; we are aware of it. However, we must be realistic and objective. The pressure is high, and the expectations are high. We will not fall into such a trap, and we will go one game at a time. I believe in this team."

Dalić pointed out that Croatia is one of the few in the world who has won two World Cup medals in the last 20 years.

"In the last 20 years, we have won two medals. And there should be commotion around us, but we are preparing in peace. Of course, the first game is important, a good start is important, but it is not crucial," said Dalić.

Modrić also commented on retiring from the national team.

"I haven't made a decision yet. I don't want it to be a topic at the World Cup. I'm here to enjoy and play a good tournament. We'll see how far we can go. We have faith in our abilities. If we play like before, we can do a lot. Tomorrow we have a tough match. I believe we can play well and hope for a favorable result", said Modrić.

Source: HRT and HNS

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Kramarić Scores in Croatia's 1-0 Friendly Win in Riyadh before World Cup

November 16, 2022 - Andrej Kramarić scores in Croatia's only friendly match ahead of the World Cup. Croatia beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Riyadh on Wednesday. 

In the only preparatory match before the World Cup in Qatar, the Croatia national team won 1-0 against Saudi Arabia. Andrej Kramarić brought the victory to Croatia with a great goal in the 82nd minute.

Coach Zlatko Dalić started this match with Croatia's reserves. As announced, Dalić chose a mixed lineup, mostly with players who will not start against Morocco next week. 

Croatia Lineup

Livaković, Stanišić, Lovren, Erlić, Barišić, Sučić, Brozović, Majer, Pašalić, Vlašić, Petković

Croatia looked rough in the first half and only had one shot on goal. Saudi Arabia proved to be a formidable opponent until the very end. Saudi Arabia had several attempts and even hit the post. On the other hand, Croatia was mainly invisible. At halftime, Dalić subbed off Vlašić and Sučić for Kovačić and Oršić. In the 58th minute, Lovren and Petković were subbed off for Vida and Kramarić. 

Kramarić scored in the 73rd minute, but it was called offside. Luka Modrić and Ivan Perišić entered the match only in the 65th minute. 

Croatia finally secured the victory in the final 10 minutes of the match. A great ball by Luka Modrić found Kramarić in the 82nd minute. He shot from about ten meters and hit the near post of the goal for the Croatia lead and ultimate win. Croatia had another goal disallowed after Ivan Perišić scored in the 87th minute. 

This was Croatia's fifth win in a row, coming off a successful Nations League campaign. 

Croatia's first World Cup match in Group F is against Morocco on Wednesday, November 23, at 11 am Croatia time. Croatia travels from Riyadh to Qatar tomorrow. 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Zlatko Dalić Announces Final 2022 World Cup Croatia Squad

November 9, 2022 - The final 2022 World Cup Croatia squad was announced today. 

Croatia national team coach Zlatko Dalić announced the final 2022 World Cup Croatia squad two weeks before Croatia's first match in Qatar. The final list of 26 players was announced at a press conference in Zagreb. 

Recall Hajduk goalkeeper Lovre Kalinić was not included in the wider list due to injury.

Goalkeepers Kotarski and Labrović, defenders Ćaleta-Car and Pongračić, midfielders Mišić and Ivanušec, and forwards Čolak and Brekalo were dropped from the final list and are not going to Qatar from the wider list. 

National teams can have between 23 and 26 players on the final list of players for the World Cup.

The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) must submit the final list of players to FIFA on November 14. After that, it is possible to change players up to 24 hours before the first match in case of injury.

2022 World Cup Croatia Squad

Goalkeepers: Dominik Livaković, Ivica Ivušić, Ivo Grbić

Defenders: Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Borna Barišić, Josip Juranović, Joško Gvardiol, Borna Sosa, Josip Stanišić, Martin Erlić, Josip Šutalo

Midfielders: Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić, Marcelo Brozović, Mario Pašalić, Nikola Vlašić, Lovro Majer, Kristijan Jakić, Luka Sučić

Strikers: Ivan Perišić, Andrej Kramarić, Bruno Petković, Mislav Oršić, Ante Budimir, Marko Livaja

Croatia plays their first match on Wednesday, November 23, at 11 am Croatia time against Morocco. On Sunday, November 27, Croatia meets Canada, and on Thursday, December 1, Croatia plays Belgium in their final Group F match. 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Sunday, 3 April 2022

World Cup and Croatia: 5 Reasons to Dream of Glory (Again)

April 3, 2022 - The Vatreni already know their rivals for the biggest football event to be held in Qatar this year, and there are reasons to believe that Modrić and company can add yet another page to the wonderful history between the World Cup and Croatia.

There is no easy rival in the World Cup, and this should be well known by now. It doesn't matter what path took you to the biggest stage in football, once you're there all you think about is winning and advancing as far as you can. If not, ask Croatia in 1998 and twenty years later, in 2018. To qualify for the World Cup in France, Croatia had to play a two-game playoff against Ukraine, after finishing second in their qualifying group behind Denmark. They beat the Ukrainians 3-1 on aggregate, and destiny led them to finish third in their first-ever World Cup finals.

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The Croatian national team, led by ''Ćiro'' Blažević, reached third place in France '98. (Image: Croatian Football Federation)

Unlike other national teams, Croatia's qualifying history has not been constant. After the success in France, Croatia qualified directly for the World Cups in Korea-Japan in 2002, and Germany in 2006. However, they would miss the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and again would need the playoffs to qualify for the World Cups in Brazil in 2014 and the most recent in Russia in 2018. Little or nothing Messi's Argentina, host Russia or Harry Kane's England would have imagined, that the Croats did not travel to Russia on vacation. They had a mission, and this led them to overcome what was done by Šuker, Boban, or Prosinečki twenty years before that. Croatia, defying the odds, reached the final of a World Cup.

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Croatia could not beat France in the World Cup final in Russia, but the second place achieved will always be remembered. (Photo: PIXSELL)

Can Croatia repeat a memorable feat? We think so, and here are 5 reasons why you should too.

Group draw

Two days ago, the draw for the group stage of the World Cup in Qatar was held. Croatia, despite coming second in the previous World Cup and finishing first in their qualifying group, was placed in Pot 2 of the draw. Those led by Dalić could not avoid playing against teams such as Brazil, France, Argentina, or Spain, but they could avoid others such as the Netherlands or Germany, also in Pot 2. Thus, the chances for Croatia to be put in a theoretical ‘‘group of death’’ were low.

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Image: @FIFAWorldCup/Twitter

Croatia will be in Group F, with the Belgian team as the leader, and where they will be joined by Canada and Morocco. I would like, at this moment, to remember the first thing I said at the very beginning: there is no easy rival in the World Cup. Oh yes, I've read loads of people on social media saying "not bad" or that it is an "affordable group for Croatia". The reality is that we are up against Morocco, a team that has matured since the last World Cup in Russia and one of the toughest in Africa. While the absence of Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea) may sound motivating for many, the Moroccans still have a group of talented players such as Yassine Bounou (Sevilla), Achraf Hakimi (PSG), Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina), Adel Taarabt (Benfica), Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla), or the very young Ez Abde, from Barcelona B.

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Croatia's first World Cup match will be against Morocco on November 23 at Al Bayt Stadium. (Image: @EnMaroc/Twitter)

Canada might sound to many like the rival to beat, but don't underestimate that the Canadians finished the CONCACAF standings in the first place and very comfortably ahead of more experienced teams like the United States, Mexico, or Costa Rica. The North American country will be looking to bring out the best in a golden generation that includes the likes of Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Lille), and Cyle Larin (Besiktas).

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Croatia's second game will be against Canada on November 27 at the Khalifa International Stadium. (Image: @CanadaSoccerEN/Twitter)

Finally, Belgium will surely be Croatia's big test, and many believe that it will be between them who will go through to the round of 16 as group leader. But despite the fact that some point out the bad moment and the injuries of Eden Hazard at Real Madrid, the lack of continuity of Romelu Lukaku at Chelsea, or the departure of emblematic defenders such as Vincent Kompany or Thomas Vermaelen, the truth is that the Belgian team also has reasons to go far. A team that has Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Yannick Carrasco (Atlético Madrid), Axel Witsel and Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund) at the peak of their football maturity, as well as many youngsters who will refresh the team with their mischief, like Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (Milan), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Arsenal) or Jérémy Doku (Rennes), is a team to bet on as World Cup champions. In 2018, they were the third-place team behind Croatia.

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Croatia will close the group stage against Belgium on December 1 at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. (Image: @BelRedDevils/Twitter)

So if the group is not as easy as we thought, why would it be a reason to dream? Although I insist that confidence comes from not underestimating the rivals but instead being cautious, other groups have more even teams. Group E has Spain, Germany, and Japan (waiting for Costa Rica and New Zealand). Group H has Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, and Ghana. Croatia will first play Morocco, then Canada, and will play the last game of the group stage against Belgium. If Croatia believes in its chances, it could arrive with six points to face the Belgians and fight for first place in the group. But, of course, those six points must be won first, and for that, they will have to be at the same level as the Moroccans and the Canadians.

A new generation of Croatian football players

Something that surprised (and saddened) everyone after the World Cup in Russia was the retirement from the national team of many players who were part of that wonderful team that got second place: Danijel Subašić, Vedran Ćorluka, Ivan Rakitić or Mario Mandžukić. Likewise, some starting players have been left out due to physical problems, such as Ivan Strinić, or behavior, such as Ante Rebić.

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Mario Mandžukić and Ivan Rakitić, two key players who are no longer part of the Croatian national team. (Photo: Igor Kralj/PIXSELL)

It is difficult to deny the negative impact of their absences on the Croatian team, and this could be seen in the subsequent Nations League (2018-19 and 2020-21) and Euro 2020, where it seemed that Dalić's team could not find a way to cover their exits.

But the Croatian team, especially in the second part of the World Cup qualifying phase, seems to have found several young players who will make their debut in the top competition, and nourish the team with their energy and desire. Dominik Livaković (Dinamo Zagreb) in goal, defenders Borna Sosa (Stuttgart), Joško Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), and Josip Juranović (Celtic), midfielders Nikola Vlašić (West Ham), Nikola Moro (Dynamo Moscow), and Lovro Majer (Rennes), and striker Josip Brekalo (Torino) are some of the players who will complement the more experienced players.

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Lovro Majer (left) and Joško Gvardiol (right), two young Croatian players who are called to renew the national team with their youth and projection. (Photo: Josip Regovic/PIXSELL)

Likewise, and despite not being as young as those already mentioned, some players who did not go to the last World Cup will also have the opportunity to bring the best of their talent and experience to the Croatian team. Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split) and Mislav Oršić (Dinamo Zagreb) shine in the Croatian First League and will help Vatreni regain offensive power with their fighting spirit.

In the last games that gave Croatia the qualifying ticket, these players showed not only to be decisive but also made it clear that they are ready for any football challenge. Many of them are starters for their clubs and in competitive leagues, and some of them are even starters for the national team. Let's hope Dalić gives them the opportunities they need to shine and gain experience.

Experience all around the field

And while many of the players who achieved the epic in Russia are no longer in the squad, Croatia will need more than ever of those who stayed. Croatia will need their leadership, their experience, and their hunger for revenge. An extremely young team is not always good, and neither is a team with a lack of renovation. But Croatia seems to have found that balance, and in all lines.

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Marcelo Brozović, the undisputed midfield leader at Inter Milan who became champions of Serie A in the 2020-21 season. (Photo: Milan Sabic/PIXSELL)

The good news for Dalić is that several of the players who were in Russia, despite now being four years older, are in even better sporting form than they were back then. Marcelo Brozović has established himself as the decisive player in Inter Milan's midfield, ending Juventus' reign in Serie A last year and fighting for a second consecutive Scudetto this season. Also at Inter, Ivan Perišić has managed to maintain his status as a starter, and despite the passing of the years, Ivan continues to be a benchmark in the Neroazzurro attack, as he proved himself by winning the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League during his loan spell at Bayern Munich.

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The last seasons of Mateo Kovačić at Chelsea have been spectacular and he is called to be the companion of Modrić and Brozović in the Croatian midfield after the retirement of Ivan Rakitić. (Photo: Igor Kralj/PIXSELL)

Mateo Kovačić, who played a more secondary role in 2018, is now indisputable in Thomas Tuchel's plans at Chelsea, with whom he won the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League, in a midfield that also includes players like Kante, Jorginho, or Saul. Many fans of the London team consider him not only his favorite but also the best. In defense, Dalić still has Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren, who in 2018 showed the world their valuable fighting spirit on the field, something that they can still pass on to the younger players.

World Cup calendar

Due to the high temperatures in Qatar between June and July, the usual format of the World Cup will change for the first time in its history. Now, the opening match will be on November 21, while the final will be on December 18. Previously, the group draw was held in December, six months before the start of the tournament. This year, the qualified teams already know their rivals with more than eight months to go until the start of the World Cup. Also, after the draw in December, the players used to face only the second part of the season and some friendlies before integrating with their national team in June.

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Contrary to previous editions, the World Cup will take place between November and December, and the draw for the group stage will take place in April. (Image: @HNS_CFF/Twitter)

In this way, Zlatko Dalić not only has two additional months to evaluate his players well before making a final decision on his squad in October or November, but he will do so by playing high-competition matches such as the Nations League, in a group that they make up France and Denmark (qualified for the World Cup in Qatar) and Austria, which reached the playoffs. Thus, some players who were not part of the qualifying process from the beginning will have more opportunities to show that they can be decisive in Dalić's tactics. Sometimes four friendlies before the World Cup are not enough to draw any conclusions about line-ups and strategies.

On the other hand, the Croatian players will play two different seasons before the start of the World Cup: the second part of the 2021-22 season, and the first part of the 2022-23 season. This can be beneficial for three main reasons. First of all, some players who are currently not playing many games as starters (Nikola Vlašić at West Ham or Šime Vrsaljko at Atletico Madrid), can solve their situation with a transfer or loan to another team during the summer, and from this way to pick up more form by playing more games.

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Croatia already knows its rivals eight months before the start of the World Cup, enough time to study them and prepare. (Photo: Igor Kralj/PIXSELL)

Secondly, some players like Ivan Perišić at Inter, Mateo Kovačić with the current problems at Chelsea, or Dejan Lovren at Zenit, can resolve the contracts with their current clubs, and thus become more focused on the field and the Croatian national team.

Finally, and taking into account the competitiveness of the second part of the season, many football players used to miss the World Cup in June as there was not much time to recover from their injuries, some even minor. If it were the case (hopefully not) that a Croatian player suffered an injury in these months, it is possible that they could recover before the World Cup in November, especially considering the rest months between June and July.

The Croatian national team has everything to arrive in good physical condition and great concentration in November, and Dalić to decide on a harmonious line-up and strategy, which could help them face their rivals in Group F with a lot of preparation.

One of the Best Players in the World

Croatia did not get third place in France '98 with a single player, nor the second place of Russia in 2018. Football is a team sport, and to win a World Cup eleven players is not enough, but a complete squad with players committed to a common goal. That is the reason why Croatia reached the final against France before other teams like Argentina, Portugal, or Brazil.

However, if in your squad you have a uniquely talented player, an undisputed figure in one of the best football clubs in history, a leader with 16 years of experience in the national team, and an endless fighting spirit when it comes to attacking and defending even in the 120th minute, it is enough to motivate an entire country and make them believe that they can go very far. Some still believe to this day that Luka Modrić received the 2018 World Cup best player trophy, the Ballon d'Or, and FIFA The Best as consolation after losing the final against France. If his season with Real Madrid (where he was decisive in winning the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League) and his goals and performance in the 2018 World Cup were not enough, Luka has shown them today that he is more relevant than ever and one could even say that he's in the best moment of his career.

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Luka Modrić will play his fourth and last World Cup at the age of 37 and in great shape. (Photo: Luka Stanzl/PIXSELL)

Since he secured a place in Real Madrid's starting eleven in the 2013-14 season with Ancelotti (winning the UEFA Champions League along the way), no player has been able to take his place. Along the years, Luka has seen how several midfielders have come, gone, and stayed: Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Özil, Asier Illarramendi, Isco, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Martin Odegaard, Casemiro, Dani Ceballos, Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga... but the Croatian has always been a constant, and has recently reached an agreement with Real Madrid to extend his contract even further.

Luka will arrive at the World Cup at the age of 37, probably being one of the oldest among all players. However, and as has been shown in this season of the Spanish La Liga (where Real Madrid is close to winning the title with a great difference in points over their rivals) and in the UEFA Champions League, the Croatian captain is in a great moment of form and with intact talent and technique. Also, Modrić's style of play and his position on the pitch are essential for the team's performance. Some rely on goalkeepers, central defenders, or even forwards as the star of the team, but Croatia sees having a player who is among the best in the world in attacking and defensive work as the key to success.

Luka assists, scores goals, recovers balls, and, above all, leads his team by example and attitude. This will be his last World Cup for him, and we are sure that he will want to say goodbye to the national team in the best possible way and with him a team with talented players who will help him lead Croatia back to glory.

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.

Saturday, 2 April 2022

Croatia 2022 World Cup Schedule: 11 am Opener against Morocco

April 2, 2022 - The Croatia 2022 World Cup schedule is here, with the dates, times, and stadiums listed for the highly anticipated tournament later this year.

The Croatia national team will play this November at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in Group F together with Morocco, Canada, and Belgium. The draw was held on Friday night in Doha. 

If Croatia is one of the first two national teams in their group, they will cross paths with Group E, where Spain and Germany are the favorites to pass, while the group also includes Japan and either Costa Rica or New Zealand. 

Croatia's 2022 World Cup matches
FIFA has announced the exact schedule of matches, and Croatia will open the tournament against Morocco on November 23 at 11 am local time at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

The second round is scheduled four days later, on November 27, when Croatia plays Canada at 5 pm at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The Group F derby is played on December 1, when Croatia and Belgium will play at 4 pm at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.

Qatar is not opening the World Cup.
Interestingly, host Qatar will not be the first to open the competition at the World Cup. Their match against Ecuador was scheduled by the organizer at 5 pm on the first day of the tournament, but before them, the Netherlands and Senegal will take the pitch at 11 am in the same group. Then, from 2 pm, England and Iran will play.

Remembering Croatia against Mexico 20 years ago.
This early match time between Croatia and Morocco is not the earliest Croatia has played at a World Cup. Twenty years ago in Japan, Croatia played and lost to Mexico at 8:30 Croatian time.

Croatia 2022 World Cup Schedule: 
Wednesday, November 23

11:00 Croatia - Morocco

Sunday, November 27

17:00 Croatia - Canada

Thursday, December 1

16:00 Croatia - Belgium

Source: Gol.hr

To read more about sports in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Saturday, 2 April 2022

Zlatko Dalić on Croatia World Cup Draw: "Goal is to Get Out of Group"

April 2, 2022 - Coach Zlatko Dalić comments on the Croatia World Cup draw, expressing that the goal is to get out of the group stage. 

Croatia national team coach Zlatko Dalić commented on the 2022 World Cup draw, which placed Croatia in Group F with Belgium, Morocco, and Canada, reports HNS.

Impressions are positive.

"At first glance, the group is not too tough. However, there is no easy group at the World Cup because there are the best national teams in the world. It won't be easy, but we have our goal, and that is to get out of the group. I believe we will prepare to win every game and make a step to the next round. The schedule of playing matches is good; we are playing against Morocco, Canada, and only then against Belgium." 

What does the opening against Morocco bring?

"We know that the coach of Morocco is Mr. Halilhodžić, who took four national teams to the World Cup. He will certainly prepare well for us, and it will be a tough match. Morocco beat Congo in the additional qualifiers, and several outstanding players in their ranks play in Europe. But, equally, Morocco will be very motivated because this is their first game in the World Cup."

Next up is the match against Canada, the team's first appearance at the World Cup since 1986.

“They achieved great success, but they fully deserved it. They were the first in their group; they beat the USA and Mexico, which signifies that they are very good. So they will be very motivated, they will come to the World Cup with a lot of good energy, and we will be a kind of "target" for them. So we have to be very careful because we have a tough opponent ahead of us."

In the last match in the group, Croatia awaits Belgium, the strongest national team on paper. 

"Belgium has been first in the Fifa ranking for several years; I know Mr. Martinez very well, a great coach. He has a great team at his disposal, powerful and capable of great things, with many quality individuals. That game will be our biggest challenge in the group, and it is good that it will be our third game. In any case, Belgium is the favorite in our group in terms of rating." 

To read more about sports in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

2022 World Cup Qualifiers: Slovenia Tops Croatia 1:0 in Ljubljana

March 24, 2021 - Slovenia tops Croatia 1:0 in the first round of qualifications for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday.

The 2018 World Cup finalists opened their qualification campaign at Stožice Stadium in Ljubljana against Slovenia on Wednesday, after which they will play Cyprus (Saturday, 6 pm) and Malta (Tuesday, 8:45 pm) at Rujevica Stadium in Rijeka. Slovakia and Russia are also in Croatia's group.

Croatia had recorded six wins and three draws in nine games against Slovenia so far. 

Zlatko Dalić decided on an offensive lineup against Slovenia, playing a 4-3-3 formation. Modrić was in a more offensive role in front of the midfield, and Andrej Kramarić, Ivan Perišić, and Nikola Vlašić started from the first minute.

Matjaž Kek also played in a 4-3-3 formation, showcasing two players from the Croatian First League in the starting 11, namely Osijek's Damjan Bohar and Dinamo's Petar Stojanović

Lineups

Slovenia: Oblak; Stojanović, Blažič, M. Mevlja, Balkovec; Bijol, Lovrić, Kurtić; Iličić, Šporar, Bohar

Croatia: Livaković; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Barišić; Kovačić, Brozović; Vlašić, Modrić, Perišić; Kramarić

Recap

Slovenia and Croatia kicked off at 8:45 pm in front of empty stands. Croatia maintained possession for the better part of the first 15 minutes and even had a few chances. Kramarić shot from the top of the penalty area in the 7th minute, only to be saved by Oblak, while Vlašić hit the inner post 3 minutes later.

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Slobodan Kadic

Slovenia, however, capitalized on one of their first attacks, and Sandi Lovrić scored for the 1:0 Slovenia lead in the 16th minute.

It all started from a weak ball played back by Perišić. Vida's clearance eventually found Lovrić, who was left alone to score from 15 meters. 

Croatia had a few more chances in the first half, particularly from free-kicks, but nothing resulted in the equalizer. The match ended 1:0 for Slovenia at the half. 

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Slobodan Kadic

Dalić subbed on Dinamo superstar Mislav Oršić for Borna Barišić (who was booked with a yellow card) to start the second half. 

Croatia attacked aggressively at the start of the second half, with Mislav shooting on target for an easy Oblak save.

In the 64th minute, Josip Brekalo was subbed on for Andrej Kramarić, hoping to add fresh legs to the offense. 

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Slobodan Kadic

In the 69th minute, Ante Budimir came in for Vlašić, and Pašalić for Kovačić 10 minutes later.

Croatia had no problem pushing the attack but struggled immensely with finding the back of the net. It didn't help that Slovenia boasts one of the best keepers in the world. 

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Slobodan Kadic

Spanish ref Antonio Mateu Lahoz added 3 minutes of injury time. Oršić hit wide of the goal in the final seconds for the Slovenia win. 

The match against Slovenia was Luka Modrić's 134th, equalizing Darijo Srna for the most national team caps ever. 

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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