Another major tournament, another Croatia side plagued by off-the-field issues – making Fantasy investment difficult to consider.
There are plenty of quality options in the Vatreni squad which we’ve outlined here but it’s hard to predict what mental state many of them will occupy in Russia.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Croatia’s route to the World Cup showcased both the best and the worst of Zlatko Dalic’s side. Stocked full of elite players from Europe’s top leagues, there were plenty of impressive moments during qualification for the Vatreni. But there was disappointment in equal measure as this nation’s ongoing struggle with concentration and resilience rumbles on.
In the eighth round of a fixtures, after a 1-0 defeat in Turkey, Croatia looked like they would be missing out even on a play-off place, as Iceland had made Group I’s top spot their own. With two matches left, previous manager Ante Cacic was sacked from his position and replaced with Dalic, who oversaw a draw against Finland and a crucial 2-0 win away at play-off chasing rivals Ukraine to secure passage to the next round.
A blistering 4-1 victory at home to Greece in the first leg ensured Dalic’s men were able to relax in the second, which they drew 0-0.
However, while Croatia are healthier on the pitch now than they were six months ago, their squad is still plagued by matters off it. Fans are still opposed to the national federation amid claims of corruption and both Luka Modric and Dejan Lovren are now unpopular figures too. The pair have been accused of perjury in the trial of former Dinamo Zagreb executive director Zdravko Mamic for transfer irregularities.
UEFA QUALIFYING + PLAY-OFFS
Most starts: Domagoj Vida (12), Ivan Perisic (11), Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Subasic, Sime Vrsaljko (all 10), Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric (both 9).
Most goals: Mandzukic (5), Nikola Kalinic, Andrej Kramaric (both 3), Perisic, Brozovic (both 2).
Most assists: Modric (4), Ivan Rakitic, Vrsaljko (both 3), Kramaric, Brozovic (both 2).
THE KEY TARGETS
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric (£6.9m on Fantasy iTeam | £9.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) looks set to benefit from a new advanced role with his nation at this World Cup. In years gone by the former Tottenham man has fulfilled much the same role he does at club level, pulling the strings from the middle and making the rest of the team tick. However, Croatia coach Dalic has recently restructured the midfield in order to exploit of Modric’s attacking talent. Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Inter Milan technician Marcelo Brozovic now form the engine room with Modric playing as a number 10. He was involved in six goals during qualifying but his new role may bring more Fantasy returns in Russia, provided he avoid the distraction of his public opinion.
Top-goalscorer in qualifying Mario Mandzukic (£7.4m on Fantasy iTeam | £9.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) should be on your Fantasy radar, if he can get match-fit in time for the tournament. The Juventus forward scored five goals in 10 starts during qualifying, more than any of his team-mates. He’ll get the nod over the rivals for the centre-forward position if he can get back to 100% so it’s worth checking whether he starts against Senegal on Friday afternoon.
Sime Vrsaljko (£5.8m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) has assumed Darijo Srna’s mantle as Croatia’s marauding right wing-back and is the headline option in defence. Three assists in qualification from a brilliant ability to cross the ball is a great place to start but clean sheets are also a distinct possibility too. Croatia kept their opponents out seven times from a possible 12 in qualifying, with one of those against upcoming World Cup Group D opponents Iceland. Meanwhile, only Bolivia (16) scored fewer goals in South American qualifying than Argentina (19).
THE LONG SHOTS
With Mandzukic’s fitness hanging in the balance, both Andrej Kramaric (£6.3m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) and Nikola Kalinic (£6.9m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) are in the frame to lead the line in Dalic’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system. Each forward is very different to the other but both of them have proved they can fill Mandzukic’s shoes, including from a Fantasy Football perspective. Kramaric is the shorter and quicker of the two and was given the nod ahead of Kalinic for Croatia’s recent friendly against Brazil. In five starts during qualifying the Hoffenheim man scored three times and was the provider for a further two goals. Meanwhile, Kalinic, formerly of Blackburn Rovers, is a target man who is very good in the air, who scored three qualification goals in five starts. He netted one of the goals as Croatia beat Spain 2-1 at Euro 2016.
Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic (£6.2m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) has demonstrated that, despite sitting deeper in midfield, he is still capable of involving himself in goals and assists. He netted two of his own and assisted two more during qualifying making a case for an interesting differential for Fantasy managers.
In defence Danijel Subasic (£5.7m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.5m on McDonald’s FIFA), Vedran Corluka (£5.7m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) and Dejan Lovren (£5.8m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) are all established routes into any potential clean sheets.
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