In all the hype of Croatia reaching the 2014 World Cup and playing the opening match against Brazil, we all (rightfully so) forgot about our U-21’s who are still hot, even after the departure of manager Niko Kovač to the senior side. As Luka Modrić and company were celebrating their World Cup berth at Maksimir on November 19th, the young guns had just finished gutting Latvia 3-1 in a rain-soaked Aldo Drosina Stadion in Pula. Goals from Roma’s Tin Jedvaj, a penalty from Marcelo Brozović and an insurance strike from NAC’s Stipe Perica would ensure the Mladi Vatreni would go into 2014 with a comfortable six-point lead on second place Switzerland. The group winners and best four 2nd place teams move onto the two-legged playoff for a spot at the 2015 tournament.
But it’s not about chasing a 2015 U-21 European championship. It’s about shaping up these young players for their ultimate debut: the 2018 World Cup in Russia. What will the likes of Kovačić, Halilović, Radošević, Vrsaljko, Brozović and Rebić bring in the next few years as veteran seniors enter the twilight of their careers?
At this pace, we should expect two to three stars to emerge for the senior side. All eyes are already on 20 year-old striker Ante Rebić.