ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic were included in Croatia’s experienced 30-man provisional squad for the World Cup on Wednesday.
The skillful Real Madrid midfielder, with 73 appearances for Croatia, and the prolific Bayern Munich striker, with 54 caps, are expected to form the spine of country’s team at the World Cup, where it will play host Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon in Group A.
However, Mandzukic will have to sit out the World Cup opener against Brazil on June 12 in Sao Paulo because of his expulsion during Croatia’s playoff match against Iceland.
Also included in the provisional squad are defender Darijo Srna and Brazilian-born striker Eduardo of Shakhtar Donetsk, midfielders Ivan Rakitic of Sevilla and Niko Kranjcar of Queens Park Rangers, and strikers Ivica Olic of Wolfsburg and Nikica Jelavic of Hull.
In 1998, Croatia — still recovering from a bloody civil war in the Balkans in the early 1990s — finished third in its maiden World Cup. Since then, the team from a nation of 4.3 million people qualified for three out of four World Cups.
Now, the Croats believe they can finish at least second in their group after the highly favored hosts, and progress to the knockout stage.
“We’ll try our best in Brazil, but the earth won’t stop turning if we fail,” Croatia coach Niko Kovac said Wednesday while announcing the squad which will be reduced to 23 players on May 31.
“There will always be disappointed players, but that’s how it goes,” the German-born former Croatia midfielder said. “I was not in the team for the 1998 World Cup, but still managed to play at many big events after that.”
Defender Josip Simunic had to be omitted from the squad after he lost his appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday, ruling him out of the World Cup for leading fans in a pro-Nazi chant after the playoff win.
“Simunic will unfortunately not be with us in Brazil,” Kovac said. “We are friends and I’m sad.”
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Dinamo Zagreb)
Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa), Igor Bubnjic (Udinese)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Niko Kranjcar (Queens Park Rangers), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Hamburg), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split), Sammir (Getafe)
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina), Duje Cop (Dinamo Zagreb)