Continuing on with the previews, we move on to Group C's Croatia!
23-man Croatia Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Danijel Subasic (AS Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Tottenham Hotspur), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa).
Midfielders: Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Tomislav Dujmovic (Zaragoza), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg SV).
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo Da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich).
(You can click on the nation to see the previous posts)
Croatia is a relatively new player in the International level. Croatia only joined FIFA in 1993. Previously, Croatia had been apart of Yugoslavia, a country that enjoyed some success in their history. 2 out of the 4 appearances in the Euros for Yugoslavia ended in defeat in the final. The final appearances were in 1960 and 1968. Yugoslavia made it to the World Cup 8 times, with 4th their best result in both 1930 and 1962. Yugoslavia qualified for Euro 1992 but then fell into civil war. Denmark took their place, instead.
The civil war tore Yugoslavia apart into several smaller, more ethnically homogenous nations: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia Herzegovina, along with Kosovo who do not have a team yet. Croatia have made it to the Euros 4 times, finishing in the quarter finals twice in 1996 and 2008. 1996 was, of course, their first international tournament. They followed that up by finishing 3rd in the 1998 World Cup. The next two world cups would finish in group stage exits while missing out on 2010 all together. Croatia is the only member of the former Yugoslavia to make it to the Euros this year. They made it to the Euros this year by finishing second with 22 points in 10 games in a group with Greece (winners), Israel, Latvia, Georgia, and Malta. They then went through a qualifier through two legs with Turkey. They comfortably won 3-0 in the first leg before grinding out a 0-0 game at home to win 3-0 on aggregate.
Croatia will likely play a 4-4-2. They used that line up against Turkey in their playoff matches as well as in a 3-1 loss to Sweden. The manager is Slaven Bilić, a Croatian who used to play for Yugoslavia. He once played for Everton and West Ham. He has had a relatively short managerial career, only managing his first team in 2001. In 2006, he became the coach for the national team.
Croatia are known as The Blazers. They wear their iconic red and white checkered jerseys at home and a blue away. Croatia are ranked number 8 in the world, and 6th in Europe. I personally don't agree with those rankings. A team in the top ten will not be missing the World Cup or have to go through a qualifier for the Euros with Greece topping them.
Players of Mention
The man who pulls the strings over at Tottenham. Expect him to do the same with Croatia. At the international level, he has 8 goals in 54 appearances. Tottenham finished 4th in the English Premier League, which would normally be good enough to qualify for a playoff for Champion's League. However, they will be heading to the Europa League instead because Chelsea won the final but failed to finish 4th. If Modric is insistent on playing in Champion's League, he may move on, though I rather doubt it. For Tottenham, Modric had an impressive 41 appearances with only 1 of those as a substitute. Also, the previous season, he had 43 appearances with 2 appearances as a sub. Clearly, Modric is very important to Spurs. For his work in the midfield with the international team, Modric has been nicknamed "the Croatian Cruyff".
For clarification, that is spelled SRNA. This man, who plays with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, is tied for the most caps on the team with 90. Srna is the captain for both his club and his nation and is tied with Stipe Pletikosa (GK) for the 3rd most caps for Croatia. Srna has 18 goals to his name. It looks like he plays as a center defensive midfielder with the capability of filling in as center back. It appears that Srna is a very nice guy, giving away tickets to hundreds of orphans to see club games and dedicating every goal to his brother with Down Syndrome.
With 15 goals in 77 caps, Olic is the 8th most capped Croatian ever. He plays for Bayern Munich, though he will be heading to Wolfsburg next season. Olic will be very important in getting goals for Croatia.
Chances in Euro 2012
Croatia has some talent on their team. However, it seems unlikely that they will be able to top Spain. Italy may also be a problem, though they seem to be a bit more beatable. Ireland should be a cakewalk for the Croats. If Croatia can get through the group, be it through an upset or a collapse, they can expect to find either France or England waiting for them in the first knockout round. Sweden and Ukraine are their other two opponents. A match between any of them (except Ukraine) would be something of a toss up, giving the Croats a chance to make it at least to the semifinals.
Matches to Watch
Croatia vs. Italy
I think this one will be interesting because it should dictate how the group finishes.
I don't think Croatia will get far. Even though they are ranked number 8 in the world, I don't think they are particularly good, mostly because they lost to Sweden (who are ranked lower than they are) in a friendly and finished second to Greece in qualifying. I think they will get stuck behind the Italians and brushed aside by the Spanish. Group Stage exit for me.
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