By Paul Giblin
MOSCOW, June 30 (Xinhua) -- When asked by the press about the Croatia side which finished third in the 1998 World Cup finals in France, midfielder Ivan Rakitic said that the players from that side, such as Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Dario Simic, were 'idols,' but could the current Croatia side repeat or even better the World Cup exploits of the 'generation of 1998?'
Croatia's 3-0 thrashing of Argentina in their second Group D game has to be the most impressive performance of the World Cup to date. A midfield consisting of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic passed rings around the Argentineans in a display of supreme confidence.
Rakitic commented on Friday that Modric could well be the best Croatian player of all time, echoing declarations made earlier by Prosinecki and Modric's stunning second 25-meter effort into the corner of the Argentina net certainly did his case no harm.
No side (apart from maybe Belgium) has looked as fluid as Croatia, which has to raise the question of just how far they could go in this World Cup.
Speaking in pure football terms they have a good chance: the midfield has already shown its ability with Modric possibly the best midfielder in the tournament and Rakitic enjoying a freer role than he gets at FC Barcelona. It says a lot about the talent available that a player of the abilities of Mateo Kovacic, who could leave Real Madrid for 50 million euros this summer, has to settle for a place on the bench.
Meanwhile, the powerful and skilful Mario Mandzukic is a handful for any defense, while Ante Rebic and Andreij Kramaric's form mean the decision by coach Zlatko Dalic to send Nikola Kalinic home for not wanting to go on as a late substitute against Nigeria hasn't been a factor.
Perhaps Croatia's defense might be a weakness, with Dejan Lovren solid in the air, but vulnerable at pace and right back Sime Vrsaljko just a booking away from suspension. Indeed, suspensions could be a Achilles heel of a side which holds nothing back and which has 8 players a booking away from suspension as we go into the knockout stage.
A booking for Mandzukic or Rakitic against Denmark on Sunday would see them suspended for a possible quarterfinal against Spain or Russia, with a semifinal against Colombia, England, Sweden or Switzerland then the only hurdle ahead of a trip to Moscow.
It's certainly not the toughest side of the draw, and nobody will be keen on facing a Spanish side that has been irregular to date, and which is perhaps the only one able to match Crioatia's passing.
Croatia is certainly good enough to go the distance, but with all of these bookings, they could be their own worst enemies.