World Cup 2018: Croatia are looking to make people forget 1998 | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 29.06.2018
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World Cup 2018: Croatia are looking to make people forget 1998

Croatia approach their round of 16 match against Denmark looking to step out of the shadow of 1998, when they reached the semfinals. In Sunday's other contest, the hosts aren't being given much of a chance against Spain.

Croatia are one of only three teams who won all three of their group-stage games at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and this has many pundits predicting that they'll go deep into this tournament, even though they struggled against Iceland, when coach Zlatko Dalic largely fielded a team of reserves.

However, this is a team with something of a monkey on their backs, and it's the same one that every Croatia team has had since the 1998 edition, when they famously beat Germany in the quarterfinals, before falling to the hosts and eventual winners, France. No Croatian team since has been able to match the performance, when the team featured names like Boban, Prosinecki and Suker.

Dalic believes that some of the Croatia teams that followed that generation underachieved, but more importantly, he believes that this generation is capable of more, and he has done his best to get all the talk about 1998 off their minds.

"We can achieve whatever they have achieved and even overcome them," he told reporters from Croatia's camp in Roscin.

With stars like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic looking at their best, there's good reason to think that Dalic, who few outside of Croatia had heard of before this World Cup, could be right.

However, he and his players know that Sunday's match against Denmark will be a difficult test. Although the FIFA men's rankings are anything but a definitive guide, Denmark, in 12th are slotted in at eight places above Croatia, and they do have Chrstian Eriksen.

In fact, much is being made of the upcoming midfield battle between Modric, who Rakitic has described as being "from a different planet," and Eriksen.  While Modric has been at his best, Eriksen hasn't always in Denmark's first three matches, although he did score a cracker in Denmark's 1-1 draw with Australia provided the assist for Yussuf Poulsen's winner against Peru.

Russland WM 2018 Dänemark gegen Australien (Reuters/D. Gray)

Christian Eriksen scored Denmark's first goal of the tournament against Australia

Dalic has said that against Denmark, defending well as a team will be key, and he knows that Eriksen "is a really key player for Denmark. But we can't really pay special attention just to him."

His Danish counterpart, Age Hareide, on the other hand, has come in for criticism for his tactics in his team's dour goalless draw against France, but he has promised that this won't be the case in the round of 16.

"It will be absolutely different against Croatia, we will attack," Hareide told reporters at the team's Black Sea coast training base in Anapa. 

Nothing to lose for Russia

The hosts, Russia, will be in the happy position on Sunday of going into their match against clear favorites Spain with absolutely no pressure on them at all. Prior to the tournament, all the talk was of Russia probably being the worst host team in World Cup history, with just getting out of the group stage the loftiest goal they should even aspire to. Russia, currently ranked 70th by FIFA, have never reached the knockout stages of a World Cup and the last time the Soviet Union did so was in 1986.

However, Stanislav Cherchesov's men will be the clear underdogs when they face 10th-ranked Spain, even if the Spanish have had problems of their own, starting with the sacking of head coach Jolen Lopetegui over his Real Madrid move even before the tournament started. And under last minute replacement Fernando Hierro Spain really haven't been firing on all cylinders. Still, it's hard to see them not being able to do enough to get past Russia. 

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