Update from Tuesday, May 27
Croatia have suffered a blow to their World Cup preparations after it was confirmed Niko Kranjcar will miss the tournament with a hamstring injury.
Croatia's official Twitter account announced the following:
Croatia face the unenviable task of taking on Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup's opening game, a match that is followed by difficult ties with Mexico and Cameroon.
The European nation have revealed a 30-man provisional squad in the lead-up to next month's competition, as head coach Niko Kovac calls upon an experienced selection to get the job done.
Croatia struggled through their UEFA qualifying group, finishing nine points behind an unbeaten Belgium side to enter the play-offs. Although a 0-0 draw in Iceland threatened embarrassment, goals from Mario Mandzukic and Darijo Srna sent Kovac's team to the finals.
Let's take a look at the 30 men who have a shot of making the final lineup of 23, as reported by BBC Sport:
|Croatia Provisional World Cup Squad|
|GK||Oliver Zelenika||Dinamo Zagreb|
|DEF||Darijo Srna||Shakhtar Donetsk|
|DEF||Vedran Corluka||Lokomotiv Moscow|
|DEF||Ivan Strinic||Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk|
|DEF||Domagoj Vida||Dynamo Kiev|
|MID||Luka Modric||Real Madrid|
|MID||Niko Kranjcar||Queens Park Rangers|
|MID||Ognjen Vukojevic||Dynamo Kiev|
|MID||Mateo Kovacic||Inter Milan|
|MID||Marcelo Brozovic||Dinamo Zagreb|
|MID||Mario Pasalic||Hajduk Split|
|ATT||Mario Mandzukic||Bayern Munich|
|ATT||Nikica Jelavic||Hull City|
|ATT||Duje Cop||Dinamo Zagreb|
|Starting XI Projection|
|*||Mario Mandzukic suspended for first game|
Much of Kovac's squad picks itself, with stars such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mandzukic amongst the team's most important players.
Dejan Lovren's terrific season with Southampton, which came on the back of a torrid time with Lyon, sees his fine work rewarded. Nikica Jelavic's return to first-team football also ensures he makes the cut, as Kovac's final 23 is unlikely to spring many surprises.
Disgraced defender Josip Simunic will miss the tournament after receiving a 10-match ban. His punishment comes in reaction to the player being found guilty of giving a fascist salute that was reportedly linked to Croatia's pro-Nazi Ustase group, per the Mail Online.
Croatia will face a number of stylistic differences throughout the competition, starting with a Brazil team that will be looking to impress on opening night. Although Kovac has deployed two strikers during recent matches, favouring Mandzukic and Eduardo during the first-leg playoff draw with Iceland, he'll likely mobilise a less attacking outfit against the hosts.
As a sidenote, Mandzukic will miss the clash with Brazil due to suspension, per Ivan Ivkovic of The Telegraph.
A hard-working, attack-minded 4-5-1 appears to be the right call. Lovren will slot straight into Simunic's centre-back place, meaning Vedran Corluka is the favourite to maintain his first-team spot. The two central defenders provide a sturdy base for Srna and Danijel Pranjic to go bombing from their full-back positions, but they will need Modric and Rakitic to close space ahead of them.
The two aforementioned midfielders strike a fine balance. Modric's passing remains up there with the best in the game, with his ability to receive, maintain and distribute the ball providing Croatia with vital moments to gather themselves. Rakitic's combative nature instills a fearlessness into the side that won't be bullied under difficult circumstances.
This is likely to be highlighted by the roles of Ivica Olic, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic. Olic works doggedly in forward positions and is an experienced character who will naturally follow his marker—likely to be Dani Alves in the first match—up and down the flank. He can move forward to support the striker or sit back to cover for Pranjic when necessary.
Perisic won't shy away from defensive contribution and can be swapped for Eduardo if Croatia need added attacking threat. Kovacic is a hustler in the middle and may be tasked with supporting the striker's hold-up play, while also creating a three-man central midfield alongside Modric and Rakitic when Brazil gain possession.
Kovac's team couldn't have asked for a tougher start but will be hoping the occasion inspires success. Upsetting Brazil in the first encounter is the kind of result that can kick start an impressive run through the competition, even if beIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri believes they lack the strength in depth to challenge the best:
Expectations are rightfully limited for the Croatians. Even so, much of this unit has worked together for years and is built upon stars of the European game, indicating the Vatreni are more than equipped to perform admirably.