Quarter-finals: France – Colombia – Belgium – Costa Rica
World Cup progress: Group stage
Team rating: 6
Top scorer: Mandzukic (2)
Croatia showed spirit and dynamism, but a disappointing final match saw them leave the 2014 World Cup earlier than they had hoped, writes Richard Hall.
Croatia not close enough
Croatia had a mixed campaign but can return home with some pride intact. In some respects was their tenacity and spirit that set the pace of this World Cup. They were so close in the opening game and nearly shocked the hosts.
Whilst eventually losing 3-1, they were perhaps victim to some poor refereeing as they saw a soft penalty awarded against them and then an equaliser at 2-1 perhaps harshly disallowed.
The second match provided a demolition of Cameroon with Mario Mandzukic returning in fine form, as Croatia strolled to a magnificent 0-4 win.
Their tournament would eventually end up in failure. Defeat by Mexico in the final match meant they were eliminated in disappointing style but they had at least given their travelling fans something to cheer about. Even so, that closing defeat will play on the minds of many as they had shown such spirit in the earlier games.
The Coach – Niko Kovac
Niko Kovac performed admirably, in the first match he attacked the hosts and nearly caused an upset. This approach continued in their heavy defeat of Cameroon but a little tactical naivety did creep into the final game against Mexico.
Player of the Tournament – Mario Mandzukic
Mario Mandzukic was sensational for Croatia in their second game where he netted twice. The Bayern Munich striker looked hungry throughout the tournament and showed his class from the start. If he had been available from the first game against Brazil then the outcome of the group may have looked very different.
Nikica Jelavic getting in the way Julio Cesar’s line of sight and forcing Marcelo to score an own goal left the world gasping for air. The Brazilians were stunned, as the Croatians exposed just how emotions can get the better of you.
For a complete review of the 2014 World Cup, check out the next issue of Soccer Italia, written by the team at Football Italia and available on worldwide subscription.