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What has happened to last year's World Cup finalists?

Last year's World Cup finalists, Croatia, suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat against Hungary on Sunday in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, thus losing the chance to go top of Group E.

Croatia, have had a quite miserable post-World Cup year or so, being relegated from Group A in the UEFA Nations League, at the hands of England and Spain, whilst also having a rocky start to their UEFA Euro 2020 Qualification campaign.

This loss, was always coming, especially after Croatia scraped through a win against minnows Azerbaijan, beating them only 2-1, a result that is clearly not indicative of a team that just over nine months ago, was heading to a World Cup final against France.

So what has really gone wrong for Croatia?

First of all, plenty of players that were instrumental to their run in the World Cup have retired from international football, with Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Subasic, and Vedran Corluka, all hanging up their boots after the World Cup, with their roles still not being filled fully. What seemed to be a golden age for Croatian football, seems to have ended, with most of their players opting to ending their international ventures to focus on club football at the latter stages of their footballing careers.

Secondly, Croatia's more prominent players are enduring a rough patch in form. Most notably, the Ballon d'Or winner, Luka Modric, has has a horrific start to the season with Real Madrid, and has managed to carry on that poor form into his international fixtures, not showing signs of the stamina and leadership that he demonstrated during the World Cup. Ivan Perisic is another example of this, with the winger not being totally up to scratch with Inter in the Serie A, and he has shown signs of that rustiness even in his international games with Croatia.

Lastly, was the World Cup run really all just a fluke? Croatia managed to get through to the final after winning a record-breaking three matches in the knockout stages in extra-time, beating Denmark and Russia through penalties, whilst seeing off England through a late Mandzukic goal. Afterwards, they were beaten convincingly by France in the final, losing 4-2. In the final, they were clearly no match for the sheer quality that France possessed and still possess, with Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann all hitting top form, especially during the tournament.

This change in personnel and dip in form might be the opportunity that several young players may need in order to have their breakthrough in the national team, such as Marko Rog, who has shown the potential to fit into the Croatian midfield.

Croatia's next matches are a long way away, with them facing Wales and Tunisia in the middle of June 2019, for another set of matches to be played in the qualification stages of the UEFA Euro 2020.


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