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Croatia Is the World Cup Team That Refuses to Lose


Croatia, against this, has not only turn into a fixture at these events, but emerged as a real force inside them, a squad capable — because the 1998 team was — of not only mustering a single impressive campaign but returning 4 years later, with a markedly different set of players, and doing all of it again. “We’ve 18 latest players,” Sosa, the defender, said of this 12 months’s team. “Lots of them are playing within the World Cup for the primary time.” It has made no difference in any respect.

That’s testament not simply to the regular flow of players emerging from the country’s academies — “I don’t know whether it is genetics, environment or geography,” Boban said, “but we just have a lot talent” — but to the culture that has been created throughout the national team, too.

Almost every young player in Croatia spends time early of their profession at one in every of Croatia’s two great club teams, Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split, meaning latest arrivals to the senior squad are generally greeted by friendly faces. The country’s slogan for the tournament, “family,” is greater than only a bit of selling spiel.

There isn’t a firm hierarchy among the many team; even relative neophytes are encouraged to make their voices heard. Dalic, the coach, takes a deliberately low-key approach to discipline, trusting the likes of Modric and his fellow veterans to guide by example, to be certain that their personal standards are met, to pass on their wisdom, to clarify to everyone just what is predicted.

Those expectations are so high, Sosa said, that the team has adopted a policy of “not celebrating goals, just celebrating wins.” It is that this, Boban said, that’s the ultimate ingredient in Croatia’s success: Outside its borders, it could feel and appear like an underdog, but that shouldn’t be quite the way it sees itself.

“I used to be speaking with one in every of my friends, Prosinecki or Slaven Bilic, about this a number of months ago,” Boban said. “Once we played, we were at all times favorites for our people. Once we play Germany, the people think we’ve got to win. ‘In fact we must always beat Germany!’

“We play Italy? ‘Italy shouldn’t be so talented.’ We play Brazil? ‘Yes, but we’re higher than them.’ It’s normal that they’re so proud. I don’t know the way this became in our culture, but that is Croatia. You’re feeling it, and that pressure makes you higher. It makes you more ambitious.”

Now, for the second time in 4 years, Croatia stands on the point of doing the unimaginable. Victory over Argentina would take the country to a second straight World Cup final. Once more, on the World Cup, the team that refuses to be beaten stands able to make it all of the strategy to the top.

Tariq Panja and James Wagner contributed reporting.

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