Croatia – @AlexDenning10
Croatian National Team Goalkeepers
Neymar, Oscar, and Fred are the arrival gifts that the Croatian National Team gets to look forward to when they land in Brazil this summer. Croatia has the pleasure of facing the powerful host nation Brazil in the World Cup opening match, which the Brazilians are sure to be up for. Croatia comes into the summer ranked 20th in FIFA Rankings and with a short but interesting World Cup history. While recognized as a country before the 1994 tournament, they were not allowed to compete yet, so in 1998 Croatia took the world by storm and finished in 3rd place in the tournament. The following two tournaments they were unable to get out of the group stages but just qualifying from UEFA is a feat in itself.
Croatia has only used two goalkeepers in the World Cup Finals, Dražen Ladić and Stipe Pletikosa. The former struggled through a couple of mistakes in the qualifying stages, but managed to maintain his starting position through out the 1998 World Cup. Ladić had some great performances to help Croatia to beat the likes of Germany and the Netherlands to guide his team to finish 3rd in the tournament. Since Ladić’s departure in 1999, Stipe Pletikosa has taken over the position and made it his own.
Pletikosa is the 2nd all-time caps leader for Croatia and has played all six of the World Cup Final games since then. While he isn’t known very well, he played for Shakhtar Donetsk from 2003-2007, but his best years have been in Russia playing for Spartak Moscow and now FC Rostov. No other goalkeeper appeared for Croatia in the World Cup Qualifiers, Pletikosa had all 12 caps, his reward as the number 1 for Croatia grants him the chance to be seen by all when he plays against Brazil. Pletikosa is a quality shot stopper but often parries the ball more than he should. With a frame of 1.93m or 6’4” he is able to take up a lot of the goal to easily get in the way of close shots. He is very aggressive when it comes to 50/50 balls but when the opponent is in on goal for a one on one Pletikosa can be a bit indecisive. As important as footwork is for goalkeepers now, Pletikosa needs to spend some time there to make his team feel a bit more comfortable when playing him the ball. At the age of 35 this is likely Pletikosa’s last World Cup and hopefully he we will see some saves like he had in the link below.
Croatia has one realistic backup that helps push Pletikosa to become better, Danijel Subašić of Monaco. He is more of an athlete than Pletikosa and has great reactions. With a frame of 1.91m or 6’3” he is almost as imposing as Pletikosa. His best quality is his ability to read the shot and get his body in the right position, fine tuning his save with the movement of his arms. Having a quick reaction helps him in one on ones and I would rate him better here than Pletikosa. Subašić is weak with the ball at his foot, specifically when called upon to play a long pass. While there isn’t a great difference in ability between Pletikosa and Subašić, Pletikosa gets the start and it is because of his history and experience. Subašić was given the start in an international friendly with Switzerland in March where he conceded 2 goals and had 4 saves. When it comes down to looking at just ability and athleticism, Subašić looks the overall better goalkeeper. At Monoco, Subašić starts over Argentina’s predicted number 1, Sergio Romero. This might show more where Argentina is with goalkeeping than Croatia though.
With the 29-year-old Subašić and 34-year-old Pletikosa, Croatia has good enough keepers but they are certainly not World Class. For cover Croatia will likely bring Lovre Kalinić from Hajduk Split. Kalinić is a 24-year-old that stands 2.01m or 6’7” tall, obviously his reach is a positive. He hasn’t broken past the u21 Croatian team yet but has the chances to in the future with how quickly he has been progressing. With the ages of the other two goalkeepers the natural progression seems to point to Kalinić to take over as the number 1 when Pletikosa retires. Some Croatians believe he is second on the depth chart for the World Cup, and while that could be possible I don’t see him at the same level as the other two goalkeeping options just yet.
Alex Denning is the Head Women’s Soccer Coach for Lubbock Christian University, a member of the NCAA DII Heartland Conference. He holds his NSCAA Advanced National Diploma, and the NSCAA National Goalkeeping Diploma.