We might not be able to compare the current Croatian set-up to the golden generation of ’98, but this summer’s dark horses for the UEFA European Championship have more than what it takes to stir an upset. Quarter-finalists at Euro 2008, Slaven Bilic’s men, led by Shakhtar Donetsk skipper Darijo Srna will be looking to capitalise, should Italy or Spain under-perform during the group phase. Having never moved out of the FIFA Top 10 Rankings since Bilic took charge, the Blazers come into the tournament on a high, with star man Luka Modric gaining plaudits from all corners of the world.
Finishing two points behind group leaders Greece, the Vatreni displayed a show of character in their comprehensive 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey in the play-offs to book their spot in the tournament proper. Part of the squad that finished third at the FIFA World Cup in 1998 as a player, the nation will rely heavily on the charisma of Bilic to motivate his squad and deliver results.
While Ivica Olic’s injury comes as a massive blow, Wolfsburg-based Mario Mandzukic possesses enough firepower to replace the veteran in attack. With Stipe Pletikosa in goal, and the skipper forming part of the back four alongside Vedran Corluka, Gordon Schildenfeld and Ivan Strinic, the defence is not the strongest in Europe, and can be exploited by the powerhouses of the tournament.
The side’s best features lie in the midfield, with Seville-based Ivan Rakitic and Borussia Dortmund’s Ivan Perisic with all their enthusiasm on the wings, and Ognjen Vukojevic providing protection to the back four. The highlight of the team – Luka Modric! Considered as one of the best midfielders to grace the game at the moment, the highly gifted talent will look to impress at the Championship and increase the interest of potential suitors. Eduardo Da Silva and Nikica Jelavic offer the coach extra options from the bench. With the right attitude, and consolidated defending with the highest levels of concentration, Croatia could well raise eyebrows around Europe this summer.