Ante Cacic’s Croatia side, often referred to as the country’s ‘Golden Generation’ by the national press, are running out of time to write their names into the history books.
Star man Luka Modric (30), Ivan Rakitic (28), Mario Mandzukic (30), Ivan Perisic (27) and Captain Darijo Srna (34) may see this as their last chance to win an international trophy.
After progressing through the qualifying stage with relative ease, even after a one-point deduction because of a racist gesture, Croatia’s ageing stars will be looking to do better than their country’s previous best effort of the quarter-final stage. In fact, Croatia hasn’t got past the group stage of any major international competition since Euro 2008.
They will kick off on June 12 against Turkey, with Spain and the Czech Republic making up the other places in Group D.
During these fixtures, it is highly likely that Danijel Subasic will be trusted in goal. The AS Monaco goalkeeper, who has played European football for both the Ligue 1 club and Hadjuk Split, has been his country’s number one goalkeeper since Stipe Pletikosa’s retirement in 2014.
And in front of the tall shot-stopper, Darijo Srna will occupy the right-back position. The captain of both his national side and Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk, he has been a main-stay in the Croatia team since Euro 2004. He is an attacking full-back with an excellent final delivery and keen eye for goal from set pieces, scoring an impressive six goals last season.
After Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren’s admission from the squad because of arrogant demands about his role in the side, manager Cacic and his predecessor Niko Kovac often trusted the central pairing of Vedran Corluka and Domagoj Vida in Croatia’s bid to reach the tournament. Currently playing for Lokomotiv Moscow and Dynamo Kyiv respectively, they played a major part in conceding a miserly five goals in the entirety of the qualifying campaign.
However, it is in the midfield that Croatia is packed with world class talent. Luka Modric flourished under Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid during the second half of last season. His compatriot, Mateo Kovacic, also featured 25 times for Los Blancos after completing a big-money move from Inter Milan last summer, and the pair helped Real Madrid to their eleventh Champions League victory on Saturday against Atletico Madrid.
Ivan Rakitic, on the back of La Liga success with Barcelona, looks set to make up the midfield. The 2015 Croatian Football of the Year is edging ever closer to a century of appearances for his country at the age of 28, and will have a big part to play in Croatia’s campaign this summer. His incredible vision, passing ability and goal scoring touch has seen him labelled as the long term replacement of Xavi after he left the Catalan club.
Ivan Perisic has already benefited from Croatia’s abundance of creativity. Top scorer in the qualifying campaign with an impressive six goals, he arrives in France on the back of a solid first season at Inter Milan after transferring from VFL Wolfsburg. The inside forward already has international tournament experience, after scoring two goals at the 2014 World Cup against the hosts Brazil and Cameroon.
Tall Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic will be looking to do much better than his feeble solitary goal in the qualifying campaign. But, after scoring ten goals last season for the mighty Juventus in their all-conquering season, on the back of successful stints at both Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, his reputation as one of Europe’s best finishers remained unblemished. He will be entering the tournament this summer feeling as though he has a point to prove.
Another striker looking to set the record straight is Andrej Kramaric. Familiar to English fans, he became Leicester City’s record signing back in January 2015, but failed to live up to his hefty price tag. He made only a handful of appearances for Claudio Ranieri’s title winning side last season before being loaned out to Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim – he scored an important five goals in their successful relegation battle and has recently made his move to Germany permanent.
So, all in all, I firmly believe that Croatia have what it takes to be extremely successful at Euro 2016. They possess world-class players in all areas of the pitch, and have the perfect blend of experience and players reaching their peak.
Russia, led by Andrey Arshavin, looked rampant and set to challenge for the title in 2008, and who would of thought that Greece would have been victorious at Euro 2004? So who knows, Croatia may enter the history books come July.
Croatia 23 man squad:
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Ivan Vargic (Rijeka)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Napoli), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic (both Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marko Rog, Ante Coric (both Dinamo Zagreb)
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), Marko Pjaca, Duje Cop (both Dinamo Zagreb), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim)
By Ryan Plant, Guest writer for TFN on 03/06/2016 at 00:11
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanplantwwfc