SOCHI, July 6: Croatia are targeting the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1998 � when they made their debut as an independent nation on football�s biggest stage.
It is unwise to look too far ahead at an event so full of surprises, but will a Croatian team facing host nation Russia in the last eight ever get a better chance to outdo the heroes of two decades ago?
Zlatko Dalic�s side showed in their comprehensive dismantling of Argentina during the group phase that they have no fear of the big names, and there is a strong case to say they are the best team left in their half of the draw.
England might disagree, and the two countries could yet meet in the semifinals.
However, while Croatia needed penalties to beat Denmark in the last round, they have come to Sochi full of confidence.
�We have shown in this World Cup that we have the right to hope for big things. We are playing really well and we have such players that we certainly should believe can go to the very end,� said defender Domagoj Vida.
Any team boasting a player of Luka Modric�s quality can afford to dream, especially when he is supported by Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic.
�He is our captain, he is our leader, we all stand behind him,� said Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic of Modric.
The Real Madrid player is possibly the best midfielder at the tournament but the strength in depth for such a small country is remarkable.
Sixteen of Dalic�s squad play in Europe�s big five leagues, with Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic the hero against Denmark when he saved three penalties.
The powerful Ante Rebic has impressed as well, fresh from scoring twice for Eintracht Frankfurt in their German Cup final win over Bayern Munich.
Bringing the 24-year-old winger back into the international fold has been one of the changes made by Dalic, who replaced Ante Cacic as coach late last year.
�Each coach brings new ideas. Maybe it turned out for the best of the team that we entered a new era with a new coach,� said Perisic. � AFP