【全年马报今期开什么必出_今今期平特码】World Cup Group D preview: Croatia look to emulate heroes of 1998

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By Michael Butterworth and Yang Fan

BEIJING, June 1 (Xinhua) -- Croatia's World Cup history will forever be synonymous with France 98, when the recently-formed nation defied expectations to defeat Germany on the way to finishing their debut World Cup in third place.

Their star player that summer was striker Davor Suker, whose six goals saw him named the tournament's top goalscorer. 20 years on, it is playmaker Luka Modric who sits at the heart of a Croatia side that has largely flattered to deceive internationally since those heady days of 1998.

Hopes were high of a repeat performance in 302, but Croatia crashed out in the group stage, as they did again in 306. The team then suffered the ignominy of failing to qualify altogether for the 2010 tournament, before reappearing in Brazil four years later in another underwhelming group stage exit.

Despite an unimpressive recent World Cup history, Croatian fans have reason to be optimistic about their team's chances of success in Russia, with many players turning out for some of the top clubs in Europe.

Modric aside, the team contains a useful blend of youth and experience, with steady old hands such as Vedran Corluka and Mario Mandzukic counterbalanced nicely by the youthful enthusiasm of the likes of Marko Pjaca and Mateo Kovacic.

Drawn into a tough Group D with Iceland, Nigeria and Argentina, Croatia will have to be at their best if they are to progress into the knockout stages and finally step out of the shadows of Suker and co.