ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has slashed his provisional World Cup squad to 24 players from 32 and axe one more player by the June 4 deadline for next month’s tournament in Russia.
There were no real surprises with household names such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic expected to carry Croatia’s main hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
The Croatians, drawn in Group D with Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland, will play friendlies against Brazil on June 3 at Anfield and Senegal on home spoil in Osijek on June 8.
“We need two quality players in each position and I see our versatile striker Mandzukic leading the line because that’s his natural position,” Dalic told a news conference on Monday.
“I can’t make everyone happy but the World Cup is not the time or place for sweeping changes. I have decided to rely on tried and tested stalwarts and a bit of fresh blood.”
Uncapped 21-year old defender Duje Caleta Car or 26-year old midfielder Filip Baradaric, who has made three appearances, are likely to be left out of the final 23-man squad.
However, both will be on the plane to Russia if long-serving centre back Vedran Corluka fails to recover form a niggling calf injury.
“I hope he will win the race against time to be fit and I will be very sad if he doesn’t, but we can’t take any chances,” the 51-year old Dalic said.
Having reached the 1998 World Cup semi-finals as dark horses, the Croatians have failed to advance to the knockout rounds in three appearances at the tournament.
“I have plenty of faith in this group and we believe we can make our dreams come true,” Dalic said.
“The build-up will not be excruciating so that the players can recover from tough club seasons.”
Croatia start their World Cup campaign against Nigeria on June 16.
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kijev), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Matej Mitrovic (Bruges), Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka).
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Nikola Kalinic (AC Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Schalke), Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt).
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ed Osmond)