Croatia, Serbia and Russia: Which team will go the furthest?

Croatia, Serbia and Russia: Which team will go the furthest?

Manuel Veth –

Football lovers all around the world have been looking forward to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the awarding of the precious trophy World Cup trophy, thankfully the world’s most spectacular event is just around the corner. With the odds out, it is time to take a look, which Eastern European nation – Croatia, Serbia or Russia – has the best chance of winning the World Cup. Here are some details about the teams, the groups they belong to, and their strength.


Croatia’s squad did not have it easy during World Cup qualifying. This might be surprising given that Croatia can rely on stars like Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Mario Mandžukić, and Ivan Perišić. These players have performed wonderfully well at their club sides, and there is hope that they will play even better at this major competition.

The Futbolgrad Network has been on the ground in Croatia in recent days collecting thoughts on the team’s potential. On paper, there is no doubt that the Vatreni are one of the deepest and most talented sides heading into the tournament. The feeling about the side, therefore, is anywhere between secret hopes of a repeat of the 1998 side, or better, or open angst that the team could crash out at the group stage.

  • Best Case Scenario: Win the tournament
  • Worst Case Scenario: Booted out of the competition at the group stage

Key Players: Croatia are littered with talent and among those to watch are Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić, Inter Milan’s Ivan Perišić and Juventus’ Mario Mandžukić. Those four top stars will without a doubt guide the squad but what is impressive about the Vatreni is the depth in the squad. Young and upcoming stars include Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramarić, Frankfurt’s cup hero Ante Rebić and Red Bull Salzburg’s Duje Caleta-Car among others. Scouts without a doubt will put a heavy focus on any game in which Croatia are involved as the Balkan country produces an endless stream of talented players.

Coach: Zlatko Dalić


Serbia have an outstanding team, as they sailed past turbulence and through their qualifiers to make a comeback to the World Cup after missing out in 2014. Serbia were drawn into the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group D alongside Ireland, Wales, Austria, Georgia and Moldova. With 20 to ten goals Serbia managed to finish the group ahead of Ireland in first place qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Nemanja Matić will be a key player in the Serbia squad. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Nemanja Matić will be a key player in the Serbia squad. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Despite the success, Serbia fired Slavoljub Muslin. Muslin was replaced with Mladen Krstajić, who will now guide the country at this summer’s tournament.

  • Best Case Scenario: the round of 16 will be considered a success
  • Worst Case Scenario: finishing the group with just a single point to their name

Key Players:  Krstajić had 50 players to pick from ahead of the World Cup. Serbia without a doubt will bring a very talented side to Russia. Among the players to watch will be defender Aleksandar Kolarov, who turned heads with Roma in this season’s Champions League. The backline in the meantime will be led by Branislav Ivanović (Zenit). The 34-year-old will be without a doubt the leader of the squad in Russia. In midfield Manchester United enforcer Nemanja Matić will be the player to watch. Furthermore, keep an eye on Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić, who is in the notebooks of several European top clubs for this summer’s transfer market. Finally, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jović has finally gotten his career on track under Eintracht head coach Niko Kovac.

Coach: Mladen Krstajić


For the first time in the history of the Russian national team or previously the Soviet national team the Sbornaya will be the host team at a major tournament. At the same time on the list of 32 teams, Russia is ranked as the lowest, and as such, there are considerable doubts on whether Russia will be anything but a good host at this tournament.

As a result, of the poor showing at the 2016 Euros, Russia have gone with head coach Stanislav Cherchesov, who had the thankless task of rebuilding a side lacking talent and confidence – experimenting with various formation Cherchesov now seems to have gotten stuck on 3-5-2 despite an injury crisis at the centre-back position.

With the likes of Fedor Smolov moving on Murat Musaev is expected to rebuild the club. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Fedor Smolov is Russia’s biggest star. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

That injury crisis, in particular, has meant that many Russians have little hope that the Sbornaya will be competitive at the tournament. Regardless some may go for a risky bet using promotion code as 1xbet промокод hoping that Russia can surprise the world.

  • Best Case Scenario: The expectations are low, but Russia should manage to get out of the group stage
  • Worst Case Scenario: Knocked out of the competition in the group stage after a poor showing

Key Player: Fedor Smolovis Russia’s biggest star player. Linked with a move to West Ham United in recent months the striker will want to use the tournament to strengthen his negotiation power. Other players to watch include Mario Fernandes. The native of Brazil has been a mainstay at CSKA Moscow since 2012 and following the injury by Brazil’s Dani Alves has even been called Brazil’s best still available right-back. Unfortunately for Brazil, and fortunately for Russia, Mario Fernandes will be representing the Sbornaya this summer and in many ways could be one of the players to watch at the tournament.

Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov

Given our full analysis, Croatia will have the biggest potential of the three Futbolgrad teams to go deep in the tournament. In actual fact the Vatreni could even be considered among the favourites to win the tournament if Dalić finds the right balance when it comes to squad selection.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.


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