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2018 World Cup team preview: Croatia

Croatia v Greece - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg

ZAGREB, CROATIA - NOVEMBER 09: Luka Modric (R) and Nikola Kalinic (L) of Croatia celebrate after winning the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg match between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, Croatia (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

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Getting to know Croatia: Once part of Yugoslavia, Croatia claimed third place at its first World Cup in 1998. It’s been group stage only in the three of four tournaments since, and Vatreni has plenty of work to do in a Group D with no light days.

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No one’s going to like seeing Croatia on its fixture list, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric joined by Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and myriad others with world-class skills and resumes.

For more history on Croatia, click here.

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What group are they in? D

Game schedule – Group D – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Saturday, June 16: Croatia v Nigeria, Kaliningrad 3 p.m. ET
Thursday, June 21: Argentina v Croatia, Nizhny Novgorod 2 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 26: Iceland v Croatia, Rostov-on-Don 2 p.m. ET

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full
—– Subasic —–

— Vrsaljko — Corluka — Lovren — Vida

—- Badelj —- Rakitic —-

—- Rebic —- Modric —- Perisic —-

—- Kramaric —-

Star player: Luka Modric – The side’s best player is dealing with off-field issues, charged with perjury just this weekend in the same trial which saw ex-Dinamo Zagreb executive Zdravko Mamic sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.

The 32-year-old midfielder continues to be a key piece for Real Madrid, where he’s won four Champions League crowns and a La Liga title. Four times in the UCL team of the season and thrice in the FIFPro World XI, Modric is one of the best players of his generation.

Manager: Zlatko Dalić – Dalic took over Croatia with the side’s World Cup fortunes in jeopardy and delivered a second place finish and playoff victory over Greece. By far his highest profile gig yet, Dalic has had success in UAE with Al-Ain.

Secret weapon: Ante Rebic -- The 24-year-old has scored 12 goals and added five assists in two seasons at Eintracht Frankfurt, on loan for Fiorentina. Likely to serve up crosses and combinations as a super sub, you’ll likely remember his name if Croatia maks a run.

Prediction: Getting out of the opener against Nigeria undamaged is fine, though getting a win would be a massive bonus heading into a match-up with Argentina. Croatia can get out of this group, though finishing as runners-up means a likely match-up with France in the Round of 16.

Follow @NicholasMendola