THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

wsc328 preview What are the expectations for the team?
If they qualify for the second stage most people will be happy. Given our likely opponent in a first knockout match (Holland, Spain, Chile), that's probably the best we can expect.

Is the coach popular?
The previous coach Igor Stimac was a nightmare. He changed formation and tactics for almost every game, was arrogant towards anyone who criticised him and portrayed himself as having a mission to "awake" Croatia (not only in football terms). So anyone coming after him would be popular. Some doubt Niko Kovac's credentials as he has little coaching experience but in general, he is fairly popular and his approval ratings are good for now.

Are there any players who have appeared in advertising?
Mario Mandzukic is in a commercial for the Mond chocolate bar –  a contest organised by the Zvecevo factory and Sportske novosti, the daily sports paper, with the prize being tickets and a trip to Brazil. The voiceover says "Do you want to be a part of the World Cup in Brazil?" and Mandzukic answers "A-ha". INA, the oil company who own the most petrol stations in the country,  have Eduardo Da Silva, Ivica Olic, Stipe Pletikosa and Ivan Perisic getting petrol and coffee while people wish them luck.

Is there a World Cup song?
There is a new supporters' anthem called Neopisivo (Indescribable), by Zapresic Boys who are connected to the official Croatia supporters' group Uvijek vjerni (Always faithful). The lyrics are terrible and don't say anything other than "We really love Croatia very much".

Which players are good or bad interviewees?
Captain Darijo Srna is the most open when speaking to journalists, while Mandzukic is far from a keen interviewee. Pletikosa is always very serious.

Any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Ivan Rakitic owns a lower-league club in his hometown of Moehlin, Switzerland. They are called FC Pajde, best translated as "Chums". His older brother plays there and his father is the chairman. Once a year, they organise exhibition games with guest stars including Croatia and Switzerland national team players. It's a pity that Mladen Petric is not a serious candidate for the team any more, because his hobby was the most interesting – he is a very passionate magician/illusionist.

What about media coverage?
HTV, Croatian public TV, will cover matches live. Their usual in-studio pundit is Goran Vlaovic, of the 1998 generation. After being criticised for vague and banal comments, he's almost decent now. In the Zagreb studio, various ex-players and coaches likely to appear as analysts include Slaven Bilic, Robert Prosinecki and Alen Boksic. Previously, two notable pundits/commentators had been part of the coverage. One was Tomislav Ivic, the legendary (now late) coach who provided magnificent tactical analysis and would be proved right in 90 per cent of the cases. The other was Stimac prior to his job as national manager who talked confidently and convinced people with below-average understanding of football that he was an expert.

Will there be many fans travelling to the finals?
The economic situation in the country is still bad so the numbers won't be impressive. I suspect they won't fill the quota against Cameroon and Mexico. Unfortunately fans are unlikely to refrain from the controversial Za doom (for the homeland) salute. Aleksandar Holiga

This preview was originally published in the World Cup Team Guide that went on sale with WSC 328 on May 8, all information was correct at the time of publication

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