RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol was one of five Bundesliga-based players in the Croatia team that beat Morocco in the third-place match at the 2022 World Cup. bundesliga.com shines a light on the bronze medal-winning quintet...
Gvardiol's been one of the standout players at the World Cup, let alone best centre-backs. The 20-year-old started every game for the 2018 runners-up, making 44 recoveries - a tournament-leading figure among defenders. He also ranks second only to Netherlands counterpart Jurrien Timber (10) for interceptions (eight).
"Gvardiol is the best central defender in the world," Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic said of the Leipzig sentry, who marshaled a defence that conceded just three times in five games prior to the semi-final loss to Argentina. "He's so mature. The way he plays, with the grace he controls the ball - it's amazing."
Watch: Josko Gvardiol's best goals, assists and skills
It's a fact Bundesliga followers know all too well, following Gvardiol's breakout debut season in a Leipzig shirt in 2021/22. The former Dinamo Zagreb youngster made some 46 appearances in all competitions as Die Roten Bullen finished fourth in the Bundesliga and lifted the DFB Cup.
Almost halfway into the current campaign, Gvardiol is underpinning Leipzig's domestic and European efforts in the UEFA Champions League. Despite an injury-interrupted start to 2022/23, he's among the Saxony outfit's top five defenders for aerial challenges won (16).
Gvardiol kept countryman Andrej Kramaric quiet as Leipzig beat Hoffenheim 3-1 on Bundesliga Matchday 13. That's no mean feat against a seasoned attacker with 91 Bundesliga and a club record 106 competitive goals to his name.
Kramaric has operated in an increasingly withdrawn role for Hoffenheim with age - he turns 32 at the end of the current campaign - but still came up with three goals and two assists across 14 Bundesliga appearances prior to the World Cup.
Watch: Kramaric's best Bundesliga moments
At the finals, Kramaric has been an ever present in Croatia's No.9 jersey. The former Leicester City forward has started every game, scoring a brace in the group win over Canada, adding to his solitary goal during his country's run to the 2018 final.
Kramaric has credited current Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann for putting him on the national team's radar. "He's one of the best in the world," he said, having blossomed under the Bundesliga's youngest coach at Hoffenheim (2016-2019). "He has a different outlook, I'm very grateful to him."
Borna Sosa honed his craft at Hoffenheim's south-west rivals VfB Stuttgart. Another Dinamo product, the cultured left-back switched to Germany in 2018, but it wasn't until the 2020/21 campaign that he began to make his mark on the Bundesliga.
With nine assists that season, eight last term and a further five so far in 2022/23, Sosa has catapulted himself into the international frame. The 24-year-old marked his fifth senior cap with the assist for the goal that sent Croatia to the 2022 World Cup finals, where he started all but one of his country's seven matches.
Watch: All of Borna Sosa's assists so far in 2022/23
"Borna puts in crosses from every angle: sometimes chipped, sometimes drilled, sometimes flat, sometimes in behind, sometimes to the front post, other times to the back post. His left foot is a real weapon," former Stuttgart sporting director Sven Mislintat once said of Sosa's seek-and-destroy deliveries.
Sosa has even been likened to England legend David Beckham on account of his finely tuned ability to pick a pass. Indeed, among his defensive counterparts in Croatia's World Cup camp, only Gvardiol (90 percent) and Dejan Lovren (89 percent) have found a teammate more often (84 percent).
Josip Stanisic made his World Cup debut in the third-place game against Morocco. The Bayern Munich defensive specialist featured at right-back from start to finish adding 90 minutes to the 475 spanning his previous seven senior international outings.
One for the near future, the 22-year-old can play on both flanks and as a centre-half - positions he has occupied across his 30 first-team appearances for Bayern, whom he joined from fellow Munich-based club Fürstenfeldbruck in 2017, at the age of 16.
"Stanisic has established himself in our senior squad over the past two years," Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic explained following news of Stanisic's contract extension, penned on the eve of the World Cup. "He's versatile and performs well when called on. I'm happy we can plan with him for the long term."
Born and raised the Bavarian capital of Munich, Stanisic could have played for Germany at senior international level - he represented their U19s - but ultimately plumped for his family's homeland, earning his first cap in October 2021.
The 25-year-old joined Eintracht Frankfurt in August 2021 from – you guessed it – Dinamo Zagreb. The defensive midfielder, who is also able to play in central defence and has even moonlighted at right-back for the Eagles this term, was an instant hit in Oliver Glasner's side, making 22 starts in his debut season that included a triumphant run to UEFA Europa League glory.
He has been a key part of Frankfurt's team in 2022/23 too, making 12 of his 14 league outings in the starting line-up. "I'm very happy that we have him," said head coach Oliver Glasner," before praising the player's versatility and willingness to put the team first after switching him to centre-back.
"Players who have been trained as defensive midfielders are ideal for that position because they can read the game and are comfortable on the ball in building from the back. I wasn't surprised that Kristijan did it so well."
He earned the first of five senior international caps against Cyprus in October 2021 and was included in Croatia's World Cup squad, even if he was an unused substitute for the team's first six games. Jakic came off the bench for a brief cameo late on in the third-place play-off triumph against Morocco.
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