ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia will be heading to the World Cup focused on one match: the tournament opener against host Brazil.
With confidence in full supply, the Croatians believe they can stage a major upset against the highly favored hosts on June 12 in Sao Paulo.
"World Cup opening games are always tense and nervous," Croatia captain Darijo Srna said. "Anything can happen. Surprises are always possible."
Back in 1998, no one believed Croatia — still recovering from a bloody civil war in the Balkans in the early 1990s — could finish third in its maiden World Cup. But with Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki and Zvonimir Boban leading the way, they did just that.
The road to the 2014 World Cup wasn't so smooth, but the Croats are hoping to rekindle the flame from their "Golden Generation." And the first test will come against the tournament favorites.
"Brazil in the first game with the whole world watching, it will be something," Croatia coach Niko Kovac said. "We will try to make it difficult for them."
Although Croatia no longer has star players like Suker, the talent in the national team football remains widespread.
This time, Croatia heads into the World Cup with a shaky defense, a strong midfield led by Luka Modric and the equally stylish Ivan Rakitic, and an attack spearheaded by prolific Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic and veteran Ivica Olic.
"We won't just be there as tourists," Kovac said. "You only get a shot at the World Cup every four years, so we want to leave behind a lasting impression."