Croatia’s ageing side will be boosted this summer with some young talent in the form of 23-year-old striker Marko Pjaca.
The Juventus player was loaned out to Schalke by Max Allegri after a series of ill-timed injuries. Yet despite this setback, his skill and strength on the ball could earn him a place in Croatia’s starting XI.
His recent performances for Schalke have seen him reveal flashes of his brilliance on and off the ball and, if he’s included, then he may play a pivotal role in his team’s progression to the latter stages of the tournament.
Marko Pjaca has had a stop-start season with both his mother club Juventus and Schalke, meaning he has not always been a feature of the starting lineup for either side. However, in the spells he has played, he has shown glimpses of artistry.
At the beginning of the season, an early run of form was halted after Pjaca damaged his cruciate ligament, leaving him on the sidelines from October to December.
Despite slowly integrating himself back into the starting team with a series of good performances, he never fully recovered after his injury. As a result, Max Allegri responded to this dip in form by sending him on loan to Schalke.
However, he was not as prolific for the German side as he was expected to be, meaning that there are now doubts about who he will play for next season.
By contrast to the irregularity of his domestic performances, Pjaca has been brilliant for his national side, Croatia.
The youngster made his debut for the senior squad as a 19-year-old back in 2014, playing the final twelve minutes in a 2-0 win against Cyprus.
Since then, he has played 16 times for the senior side, mixing his appearances there with a number of appearances with the Under-21s side.
Although he was on the squad for Euro 2016, Pjaca only played one full fixture – in the surprise 2-1 win over Spain – only picking up eleven minutes elsewhere.
Despite failing to break back into the starting XI for Croatia in the recent international friendlies following his cruciate ligament injury, the Juventus man will hope to play an increasing role as the World Cup unfolds.
As a player, Pjaca is very versatile, and can be used on both the right and left flank as a number eight, or as a wide forward, which is how Juventus used him.
For Croatia, however, he has thrived in the centre forward position, sometimes dropping deeper to link up with midfield players like Luka Modric.
Pjaca’s strength and skill on the ball have been likened to Karim Benzema and his performance for Schalke against Hertha that earned the side a Champions League spot was emulative of the Frenchman’s style of play.
He may not be played over the tried and tested Mario Mandzukic but, if he is used, he could really thrive in the 4-2-3-1 system slotted into an experienced Croatian midfield featuring the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Croatia in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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