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- Euro 2012
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Ivan Kelava (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Danijel Subašić (AS Monaco FC).
Defenders: Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa FC), Vedran Ćorluka (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Danijel Pranjić (FC Bayern München), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Josip Šimunić (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinić (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Domagoj Vida (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Sime Vrsaljko (Dinamo Zagreb)
Midfielders: Milan Badelj (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Tomislav Dujmović (FC Dinamo Moskva), Niko Kranjčar (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Luka Modrić (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Ivan Perišić (Borussia Dortmund), Ivan Rakitić (Sevilla FC), Ognjen Vukojević (FC Dynamo Kyiv), Darijo Srna (FC Shakhtar Donetsk)
Forwards: Eduardo (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavić (Everton FC), Mario Mandžukić (VfL Wolfsburg), Nikola Kalinic (Dnipro).
Croatia has been an independent state for a bit more than 20 years; still this will be their 4th appearance in the tournament out of 5 possible. They reached the quarter finals in 1996 and 2008, being knocked out by Germany and Turkey(in one of the greatest matches in European Championship history) respectively. They failed to qualify in 2000 and were eliminated after the group stage in 2004 after a less than impressive performance, but they still hold a positive record in the competition. They finished second in their qualifying group now, two points behind winners Greece. In the playoff they earned some revenge over Turkey, beating them 3-0 aggregate and thus securing their spot in the finals for a third consecutive time.
Slaven Bilic is still what you’d call a young manager, aged just 43. Back in his playing days he was one of the greatest Croatian footballers and was part of the team that finished third in the 1998 World Cup. He has been in charge of his country since 2006, and in the 62 games played since then the team have lost just 7- an outstanding achievement. He has a really interesting personality and employs some unconventional methods in the build-up to games, such as playing relaxing music to his players in the locker room. He will be remembered for the quote:”With the greatest respect to women, football is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Likely formation: 4-4-2
In the build-up to the Euro 2012 Croatia played two friendly games (against Estonia and Norway), and in both Bilic started with a classic 4-4-2 formation. The Croats have a well-known style of play, and there is no reason for the manager to change things right before the tournament, especially having in mind how well things have been going for them.
Players to watch out for:
This is a very experienced squad and these players have been together for the last couple of years. Most of them play their football in Western Europe and there are quite a few representatives of the Bundesliga and Premiership in this team. Obviously, Luka Modric is the best-known name across the continent, so it’s expected that he’d be the one to lead this team to glory. His colleagues in the midfield Niko Kranjcar and Ivan Rakitic are also very technically gifted players and Everton striker Nikica Jelavic will surely try and provide the goals for his team. Watch out for Darijo Srna and his dangerous free-kicks.
Players who will miss the tournament:
Ivica Olic, Ivo Iličević and Dejan Lovren were included in the preliminary 27-man squad, but dropped out due to injuries. Actually, Ilicevic featured in the final squad, but had to be replaced by Sime Vrsjalko one day before the tournament due to injury. This is a huge blow to Croatia’s ambitions in this tournament, as they are three very high-profile players, but I’m sure Slaven Bilic will think of a way to deal with this loss. There are also 2 very promising youngsters in Croatian football, and many expected that at least one of them makes the squad. They are Mateo Kovacic and Ante Vukusic, who didn’t feature in Bilic’s plans at all, but I can assure you that those guys are the future not only of Croatian, but of European football as well.
Prediction: group stage
Croatia are one of the very good teams in Europe, but in the company of Spain and Italy as early as the group stage, it will be very difficult for them to progress to the knockout rounds of the competition. Still, we’ve seen bigger upsets happen, so hopefully, for the sake of attractive football and some of the most passionate fans in Europe, we will see Croatia go far in this tournament.