Ivan Perisic believes the current Croatia team can surpass the achievements of the famous 1998 side in its quest to win the World Cup in Russia. It has been 20 years since Croatia announced itself on the international stage after finishing third at France 98 — the country's first World Cup appearance.
Boasting the likes of Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki, Croatia stunned the world as it defeated Germany in the quarterfinals before falling to host France in the final four, though the Balkan nation trumped Netherlands in the third-place play-off match.
'Believe in ourselves'
Now a new generation — led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic — has Croatia dreaming of the ultimate success following years of promise as it prepares to face host Russia in the quarterfinals in Sochi on Saturday.
"We've come close and hopefully we can go a bit better them now," Perisic said. "We believe in ourselves. We know our qualities."
It is almost 20 years ago to the day that Croatia defeated Germany 3-0 to book its spot in the semifinals of the 1998 tournament. "I was four years old when I watched matches from the World Cup in France," star forward Ante Rebic said. "I remember the victory against Germany. My family were barbecuing in the garden and the atmosphere was fantastic."
However, in order to reach the same stage this time around, Croatia must first get past a resilient Russia team growing in confidence after the host nation sensationally eliminated 2010 champion Spain.
Russia — for whom Yuri Zhirkov and Alan Dzagoev are fitness doubts — was outclassed by Spain but managed to earn a 1-1 draw after extra time before surviving a penalty shoot-out thanks to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
Aleksandr Golovin — who has been linked with Chelsea and Juventus — said: "Spain control the ball against any team in the world. We found a solution against that. I think against Croatia we'll use our strong qualities and try to impose our style. It doesn't mean Croatia are weaker than Spain. It only means that Croatia have a different style. They don't need the ball all the time to create chances.
"This suits me better. I know what I'm talking about, I've watched all their games in the group stage. I think it's going to be a very even game. The team that shows more character, that is more persistent, will gain the advantage."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Russia – Artem Dzyuba
Artem Dzyuba has been directly involved in four of Russia's last seven goals at the 2018 World Cup (three goals, one assist), scoring both of its last two.
Croatia – Mario Mandzukic
All eyes will be on Modric and Rakitic but Mario Mandzukic scored his third World Cup goal for Croatia against Denmark in the last round — only Davor Suker (six) has scored more for it at the World Cup.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- The last five host nations to feature in a World Cup quarterfinal have all progressed to the semifinal (Italy 1990, France 1998, South Korea 2002, Germany 2006 and Brazil 2014).
- Croatia has scored as many goals in four matches at this year's World Cup (eight) as it did in six games in its previous two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2014 combined.
- Russia had 10 shots on target in its first two 2018 World Cup games — it has managed just two in its last two matches, with one of those a penalty (Artem Dzyuba v Spain).
- After keeping clean sheets in both of its opening games at this World Cup, Croatia has conceded once in each of its last two matches. It has not conceded a goal in three consecutive matches at the same World Cup tournament since 2002, when it failed to keep a clean sheet in all three of its matches.
- Croatia has only lost one of its seven World Cup matches against fellow European opposition (W5, D1), while Russia has never beaten a European team at the World Cup (D1 L3), although it did eliminate Spain on penalties in the last 16 of this year's tournament following a 1-1 draw.
- 10 of Croatia's last 12 World Cup goals have come in the second halves of its games.
- Croatia has faced the host nation at the World Cup twice previously, losing both matches against France in 1998 (2-1 in semifinal) and Brazil in 2014 (3-1 in group stage).