WORLD CUP FORECAST: Group A - Croatia looking to emulate class of '98
by Andrew Slevison & Will Taylor
Croatia's best performance came in their first ever tournament more than a decade-and-a-half ago.
Having officially joined FIFA in 1992, Croatia finished third at France '98, but have since been unsuccessful in their quest to become a European powerhouse on the world stage.
Failure to advance past the group stage at both South Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006 preceded the botched 2010 qualifying campaign but Vatreni (the Blazers) atoned for that by putting in a decent display at Euro2012.
A comfortable win over the Republic of Ireland, a draw with Italy and a narrow loss to Spain did not see them out of the group stage in Poland and Ukraine but did put them on the right track for their successful 2014 WC qualifying campaign.
Croatia eventually needed a play-off victory over Iceland to qualify for this year's tournament, having failed to book their tickets to South Africa in 2010, and will be full of hope as this summer's event looms closer.
In Group A in June and July, Croatia meet hosts Brazil, the dangerous Mexico and a Cameroon side looking to re-establish themselves as one of African football's elite.
A Round of 16 clash with either reigning champions Spain or runners-up Holland awaits whoever manages to finish second in this group - behind hot favourites Brazil - and it could quite possibly be Niko Kovac's side who put their name forward for the knockout phase.
Manager: Niko Kovac
Fixtures: Brazil - June 12 (Sao Paulo), Cameroon - June 18 (Manaus), Mexico - June 23 (Recife)
Past outings against group opponents: Croatia have only come head-to-head with Brazil twice. The first of these meetings came in 2005, where they played out a 1-1 friendly draw in Split, before a 1-0 group victory for this Brazilians at 2006 WC in Berlin.
Their meeting with Cameroon on June 18 will be the first between the two nations, however, the Croatians have played Mexico on three occasions, winning two friendlies before losing 1-0 to El Tri at the 2002 WC.
World Cup utopia: Qualify for knock-out stages.
Doomsday scenario: Not winning a game.
Qualified by virtue of: UEFA play-off win vs Iceland (2-0 on aggregate)
Best result at a World Cup: 3rd (1998)
Croatia and Mexico will be competing hard for second place in Group A, with Brazil expected to win the group. No team likes to leave a World Cup winless and the meeting between the two on June 23 will be fiercely contested, with the winner likely to be the team that progresses to the Round of 16.
Their squad is settled and contains several individuals capable of winning games on their own. They have a great leader in Srna, who is a legend at Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine and has over 110 caps for his country.
Croatia get off to the toughest of starts against hosts Brazil but if they can grab a result from that game it will give them confidence going into the remaining fixtures. It will also mount pressure on Brazil, who as a nation, expect so much this time around.
The whole world will be watching and expecting a home win for Brazil but Croatia could use this to their advantage, as a positive result for the eastern European outfit would make the rest of the competitors in the tournament stand up and take note.
This Croatian group can go into the World Cup with belief in themselves defensively having qualified with an average of less than one goal against per game, however, a pair of losses to the non-qualified Scotland will pose question marks.
If they are to get a result in the opening game you would fancy them to qualify ahead of Mexico and Cameroon but past World Cups have thrown up much bigger surprises in more emphatic circumstances.
Should Croatia qualify, the pressure may lift and you will see the likes of Modric and Mandzukic really begin to express themselves on the biggest stage in world football.
On their day, this duo can be a joy to watch and their influence can carry the rest of the squad with them in order to give Croatian supporters a good run for their money in Brazil.
Prediction: Knock-out stage underdog.
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