World Cup 2022: Croatia Player Profiles

The Croatia player profiles were written by Aleksandar Holiga (

He writes for Telesport (


1. Dominik Livakovic

Date of birth: Jan. 9, 1995

Place of birth: Zadar, Croatia

Club: Dinamo Zagreb

Coming from a highly educated family – Livakovic’s construction engineer father, Zdravko, is a former state secretary at the ministry of the sea, transport and infrastructure, his paternal grandfather, Vojmil, was a radiologist and his grandmother an English teacher – Livakovic used to play basketball as a kid. Luckily for the Vatreni he later chose football but had a backup plan if that did not work out. He enrolled at a university to study diplomacy and international relations. “I’ve put that on hold for the time being, but it’s still something I’d like to do later in life,” he says. He has been Croatia’s first choice keeper since 2019.

12. Ivo Grbic

Date of birth: Jan. 18, 1996

Place of birth: Split, Croatia

Club: Atlético Madrid

In one of his first interviews as a senior player, the young Grbic was asked whether he supported any other clubs besides Hajduk, where he played since the age of nine. The answer was nothing even close to what the reporter had expected: “PSV Eindhoven. I’ve been hooked on them ever since 2005 when they reached the Champions League semi-finals.” His late father, Josip, was once Hajduk chairman, but Grbic’s career really took off only after he left the club. He was in goal for Croatia in the final group game against Russia, when a 1-0 win secured Croatia’s place at the World Cup.

23. Ivica Ivusic

Date of birth: Feb. 1, 1995

Place of birth: Rijeka, Croatia

Club: Osijek

“It’s not too late to become a good baker if I happen to fail at football,” says the player whose parents own a bakery shop in the coastal city of Rijeka. Ivusic left home aged 14 to join Internazionale, where he learned his trade from Samir Handanovic, but returned to Croatia six years later and eventually became one of the best keepers in the league. He also proved himself for the national team, keeping a clean sheet in both qualifying matches he played, but also in the shock away win against France in the Nations League in June this year.


2. Josip Stanisic

Date of birth: April 2, 2000

Place of birth: Munich, Germany

Club: Bayern Munich

The Munich-born right-back opted to represent the country of his parents rather than Germany, although he had been a part of the Under-19 setup there. Interestingly, he was given a full international debut for Zlatko Dalic’s side in October 2021, only three months after signing a professional contract with Bayern but also months before he first appeared for Croatia Under-21s. As at Bayern, he is a backup option for Croatia as well, but so far a rather reliable one.

3. Borna Barisic

Date of birth: Nov. 10, 1992

Place of birth: Osijek, Croatia

Club: Rangers

Having a father who is a known member of the criminal underground isn’t necessarily going to help you in your professional football career, at least not with your status among fans. Stipe “Moljac” (Moth) Barisic might have made more appearances in court cases and investigations than his son has on the pitch for the national team, but Borna has done well to prove himself since moving to Scotland and is now a trusted backup option for the left-back position.

5. Martin Erlic

Date of birth: Jan. 24, 1998

Place of birth: Zadar, Croatia

Club: Sassuolo

Even hardcore Croatia fans would have been hard-pressed to tell you something about the then-Spezia defender when he made his Croatia debut in June. It’s understandable, given he left his country for Italy at the age of 16 and struggled with club changes, loans and injuries before eventually getting to play in Serie A. And it was some international debut: a home game against the world champions, France, in the Nations League that finished 1-1, with Erlic performing commendably. So unexpected was it, though, that he had to miss his brothers’s wedding in order to play. “I felt sorry,” he says. “But this is what all the training and the sacrifices I made have come down to.”

6. Dejan Lovren

Date of birth: July 5, 1989

Place of birth: Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Club: Zenit Saint Petersburg

From conspiracy theories to Disney’s LGBT+ content, the side’s blabbermouth seems to have an opinion on just about everything these days – well, apart from Qatar hosting the World Cup or the war in Ukraine. Although he may have lost his starting place, he won’t go gently into that good night: “I don’t need an armband, I am a leader in the locker room,” he recently said, also complaining that he has been under “intense pressure” from back home after deciding to stay in Russia as Zenit’s captain. Previous tournament experience includes being photographed naked at the 2014 World Cup – much to his chagrin.

19. Borna Sosa

Date of birth: Jan. 21, 1998

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: VfB Stuttgart

“Upset the established order,” says one of the left-back’s many tattoos, placed prominently just beneath his chest. And that’s exactly what he did in May last year, declaring himself eligible to play for Germany after receiving citizenship through his Berlin-born mother, Vesna. After realizing he wouldn’t be called up for the Euros by Zlatko Dalic, Sosa decided to follow up on what was reported as Joachim Löw’s initiative but it turned out the switch was too late for the tournament. Sosa issued a public apology and by the end of the year he was already playing for Croatia. A big animal lover, he sponsors an elephant at Stuttgart zoo, helps a wildlife resort in Africa and has “adopted” a koala called Jimmy in Australia.

20. Josko Gvardiol

Date of birth: Jan. 23, 2002

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: RB Leipzig

Affectionately nicknamed “Pep” because of his surname’s similarity to that of the Manchester City manager (and Josko is a form of Josip/Josep, too), Gvardiol is Croatian football’s golden boy, a very modern defender set for big things. He earned the nation’s affection with, among other things, a hilarious post-match interview after Croatia had beaten Russia to secure qualification: “This win is for the future … Actually, I have no idea what I’m talking about right now,” he said. He was one of the Guardian’s Next Generation picks in 2019, and is now a certain starter for Croatia aged only 20. He is likely to move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe next summer.

21. Domagoj Vida

Date of birth: Apr. 29, 1989

Place of birth: Našice, Croatia

Club: AEK Athens

The side’s merrymaker who owns a pig farm back home in Donji Miholjac – “I have several restaurants that buy meat from me and know that it is fresh”, he said – plays every game as if it’s his last. In Qatar, it may well be, if Vida gets to play at all. The son of a local cult player, Rudika, a flying fortress of a striker who scored most of his goals with his famed forehead, Vida travels for what will surely be his farewell tournament.

22. Josip Juranovic

Date of birth: Aug. 16, 1995

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: Celtic

Most of his teammates had played for Croatia in several youth categories, but not Juranovic: he was an anonymous third division player who won a nationwide competition for amateur footballers. That intrigued Hajduk Split enough to sign him for their reserve squad when he was 19. His initial weekly wages amounted to about £150. Two years later he made his debut for the national team, making the transition from an attacking midfielder to full-back since, but it was only at last year’s Euros that he firmly established himself in the team and now he is a starter for Celtic and Croatia.

24. Josip Sutalo

Date of birth: Feb. 28, 2000

Place of birth: Čapljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Club: Dinamo Zagreb

At the time of last year’s Euros, he was just a youngster fighting for a place at Dinamo; now he is a likely starter for Croatia despite having only three caps to his name. Not that anyone would object; the quick, calm and professional ball-playing centre-back has been crucial in transforming an aging defence into one of the youngest and strongest you’re likely to see in Qatar. Sutalo was 14 when he left his Metkovic home and moved 320 miles north to join the Dinamo academy; he motivates himself for games by watching YouTube videos of world-class defenders “such as Sergio Ramos and Virgil van Dijk”.


7. Lovro Majer

Date of birth: Jan. 17, 1998

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: Rennes

Fourteen years ago Majer was a child mascot who escorted Luka Modric onto the pitch before the big Derby between Dinamo and Hajduk. Soon Modric was sold to Tottenham and Majer left Dinamo to continue his development with lower league teams. He returned 10 years later, made a name for himself and now he is Croatia’s secret weapon and a much sought-after Rennes midfielder. His and Modric’s old photo went viral in September, after Majer scored the winner against Denmark in the Nations League and the captain was the first to congratulate him.

8. Mateo Kovacic

Date of birth: May 6, 1994

Place of birth: Linz, Austria

Club: Chelsea

“We’re drunk as little pussycats,” he muttered upon grabbing the mic on stage for the 2018 World Cup homecoming rally in Zagreb, as if he had something really important to say that couldn’t possibly wait another second. That was particularly bizarre coming from a lad who is sometimes referred to as “the Altar Boy” – because, well, he was an altar boy and met his future wife as one while she was in the choir. The four-time Champions League winner (although he played in only one final, in 2021, and that was for 10 minutes) has been a member of the national team for nine years now, but only became a starter after Ivan Rakitic’s international retirement in 2019.

10. Luka Modric

Date of birth: Sept. 9, 1985

Place of birth: Zadar, Croatia

Club: Real Madrid

It has been 16 years, but it now seems as if Modric has been around forever. Modric is 37 and this is still pretty much his team. He is the captain, icon, record-holder for his more than 150 appearances; the most important, the best and easily the most successful in the nation’s history, but still Modric is not universally loved in his homeland. The reason is his role in the Mamic trial, the biggest corruption case in Croatian football, when he changed his initial testimony and said he “didn’t remember” the key details that would go in favour of the prosecution [presume legally OK?]. Charges for perjury were later dropped, but consequences for Modric’s status remained, even after the shock success at the 2018 World Cup.

11. Marcelo Brozovic

Date of birth: Nov. 16, 1992

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: Inter Milan

Brozovic is obsessed with pub games such as darts, billiards and table football, so when he went house-hunting in his native Velika Gorica, he bought one that had a large and popular bar on its ground floor. He dropped out of school when he was 16 because his dad, a butcher, told him that “football and school don’t go well together”. Brozovic could have continued the family trade if things didn’t work out but rather than chopping pork, Marcelo is slicing open Serie A defences with his passes these days. He is the unsung hero for Croatia, who don’t have a proper replacement for the iron-lunged midfielder. Also known as “Epic Brozo” for his, well, “epic” goal celebration.

13. Nikola Vlasic

Date of birth: Oct. 4, 1997

Place of birth: Split, Croatia

Club: Torino

Josko Vlasic, a former decathlete and a renowned fitness coach, had already raised and trained one World-conquering athlete – his daughter Blanka Vlasic, the high jumper – when he started working individually with his younger son, playing ball and sharpening his skills since Nikola was four and half years old. “We played everywhere. Even in the living room or in the elevator,” Vlasic Sr says. It paid off: although he failed to make an impact in the Premier League – twice – he has often proved to be an important player for Croatia, despite rarely getting casted in his natural No 10 role.

15. Mario Pasalic

Date of birth: Feb. 9, 1995

Place of birth: Mainz, Germany

Club: Atalanta

Pasalic was 17 and considered a top potential talent when his dreams were crushed by a bad bacterial infection. He spent the next six months in hospital: “At times I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue playing,” he says. A year later he scored both goals for his childhood club, Hajduk Split, in the derby win against Dinamo and the next summer he signed for Chelsea. The London club had him under contract for six years and yet he never played a single game for them, instead being tossed around on various loans. Proving himself in Spain, France, Italy and Russia, he eventually landed at Atalanta, who finally signed him on a permanent deal in 2020.

25. Luka Sucic

Date of birth: Sept. 8, 2002

Place of birth: Linz, Austria

Club: RB Salzburg

Over the past decade or so, there have been a lot of hot prospects in Croatia burdened with the tag of possibly being “the next Luka Modric”; none of them has lived up to the hype. In the end, it might be a kid from the outside, the Austrian-born Sucic, who is the real successor to the throne: merely 20 and already a key member of the RB Salzburg lineup, he is a remarkable player capable of extraordinary things while seeming exceptionally level-headed – and also much more direct than the ruling midfield maestro.

26. Kristijan Jakic

Date of birth: May 14, 1997

Place of birth: Split, Croatia

Club: Eintracht Frankfurt

Jakic flew well under the radar playing – and not always as a starter – for smaller clubs in Croatia until the age of 23, then had one good season with Dinamo before moving to Eintracht. Now he has won a European trophy, is playing in the Champions League and made his full international debut in October last year. “I laughed all day,” he remembers of the day when he got the call from Zlatko Dalic. “I asked myself repeatedly – is it really possible that I’ve come to this level?”


4. Ivan Perisic

Date of birth: Feb. 2, 1989

Place of birth: Split, Croatia

Club: Tottenham Hotspur

They used to call him Koka (Hen) and he has a tattoo of one on his right leg. It’s a reminder of the time when he moved to the French club Sochaux from Hajduk Split at 17 without even appearing in an official game for his childhood club, in order to save his father’s chicken farm, which was in financial trouble and desperately needed the money. Perisic would go on to win league titles with Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Internazionale, as well as the Champions League with the Bavarian club. A keen beach volleyball player, he even participated in a professional tournament once, but otherwise leads a quiet life, avoiding public appearances off the pitch.

9. Andrej Kramaric

Date of birth: June 19, 1991

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: Hoffenheim

For 16 years the Zagreb boy took the same tram to training, setting scoring records in the Dinamo academy, but made a name for himself away from the club. Kramaric was a member of Leicester’s 2015-16 Premier League-winning squad – although he appeared only twice that season before getting shipped out on loan to Hoffenheim, where he still plays. He has since developed into a second-striker type who thrives between the lines but, for all his qualities, he has never been a great fit for the way the team played. He’s rather philosophical about it though: “There’s an upside to every weakness,” he has said. “I may lack aggression and am sometimes too cold-headed, but that’s what makes scoring easier for me.”

14. Marko Livaja

Date of birth: Aug. 26, 1993

Place of birth: Split, Croatia

Club: Hajduk Split

In Split Livaja is a demi-god; you will see a lot of people, from kids to old folks, wearing his jersey or a T-shirt bearing his image. Livaja returned to Hajduk in the winter of 2021 feeling he had something to prove – if only until the end of that season. He had been poached from his childhood club by Internazionale as a 16-year-old, never staying for too long anywhere since. But back at his old stomping grounds he flourished; supporters organised a massive campaign for him to stay, which he did, returning their love with impossibly attractive moves and goals, becoming a fully-fledged local superstar. “Even if I wanted to leave, that would have been impossible with all the supporters have done for me,” he said. He has proved himself for Croatia as well and now, aged 29, he’s ready to introduce himself to the world.

16. Bruno Petkovic

Date of birth: Sept. 16, 1994

Place of birth: Metkovic, Croatia

Club: Dinamo Zagreb

Petkovic is the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde of Croatian football; you can never be sure which one you’re getting. By 2018 he had not scored for almost two years: this was a centre-forward, big and strong, playing regularly in Serie A and Serie B, who couldn’t find the net for 620 days, or 2,300 minutes on the pitch. Dinamo signed him nevertheless and he flourished, also making it to the national team. Now it has been more than two years since he last scored for Croatia, but in the meantime he missed a lot of games, being left out for his poor club form. When fully fit and at his best though he is an amazing player; despite his classical No 9 build, he impresses even more with his wonderful technique and vision.

17. Ante Budimir

DOB July 22, 1991

Place of birth: Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Club: Osasuna

Budimir, a war refugee from Bosnia, has never played for a major club in Croatia and only made his international debut aged 29. With his fighting spirit, hard work without the ball and strong presence in the air, he reminds fans of the iconic striker Mario Mandzukic. He has also been a university student, wrapping up his exams at the Zagreb faculty of economics and business. “Every striker wants to score, but I don’t want that to be my primary goal,” he says. “In every game there’s a lot of other work to be done helping the team.”

18. Mislav Orsic

Date of birth: Dec. 29, 1992

Place of birth: Zagreb, Croatia

Club: Dinamo Zagreb

Orsic knocked Tottenham out of the Europa League in 2021 with an incredible hat-trick and this season scored the winner against Chelsea in the Champions League, after which Thomas Tuchel was sacked. Definitely a late bloomer, the humble and almost universally likeable winger had to go through Serie B, Slovenia, South Korea and China to finally get where he always wanted to be: now he’s a star for the club he has always supported and heading to his second big tournament. An off-the-bench option, basically an understudy for Perisic.

The Canadian Premier League is proud to be part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified.