As the EURO 2012 approaches, Extratime.ie will take an indepth look into each participating team. Sam Griffin looks at the EURO 2012 Group C side Croatia.
Slaven Bilic has named his 23 man squad for the European Championships. The notable exclusions from the squad are strikers Ivan Klasnic and Mladen Petric. Bolton Wanderers’ Klasnic had a kidney transplant in 2007 and has struggled for form this season. Petric, who is nicknamed the ‘Wembley Killer’ after his goal in 2007 meant England missed out on Euro 2008, has struggled with injury this year.
A late withdrawal to the squad was striker Ivica Olic who was forced to withdraw from the squad only a week before the competition kicked off. He picked up a thigh strain in a 1-1 friendly against Norway and has been replaced by Dnipro’s Nikola Kalinic.
Ivo Ilicevic had been named in the original 23 man squad but was ruled out of the entire competition after rupturing his calf muscle just three days before Croatia played Ireland in their opening game. Dynamo Zagreb right-back Sime Vrsjalko has been called into the squad.
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb),
Defenders: Domogoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Bayer Leverkusen), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Midfielders: Tomislav Dujmovic (Real Zaragoza), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Sime Vrsjalko (Dynamo Zagreb)
Forwards: Nikola Kalinic (Dnipro), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Croatia secured their place in their fourth European Championship Finals when they overcame Turkey 3-0 in a qualification play-off. Slaven Bilic’s men put three past the Turks in the first leg which meant a 0-0 draw in Zagreb four days later was enough to book Croatia their place for Poland and Ukraine.
Before all that, Croatia finished second in Group F with a final points tally off 22 – two points behind Greece. In ten games Croatia won seven, drew once and were beaten twice over the campaign.
And they got off to a flying start when they easily overcame Latvia 3-0 back in September 2010. They could only manage a 0-0 draw with Greece at home four days later and from then on were chasing their Mediterranean counterparts for the remainder of the campaign.
Bilic’s charges followed up that disappointment with back-to-back victories over Israel and Malta before succumbing to their first defeat – losing out 1-0 away to Georgia in February of last year.
They exacted revenge in June of that year however beating Georgia 2-1 and then made it three wins on the bounce dispatching the challenges of Malta and then Israel – both games finishing 3-1. Greece continued to hold the upper hand and a 2-0 win for the Euro 2004 Champions meant Croatia would have to settle for second place and the play offs. That was assured following a comprehensive 2-0 win over Latvia.
Croatia have long held the reputation of being a technically astute footballing side and could pass most international sides to death when firing on all cylinders. Unsurprisingly much of this is due to the presence of one of the Premiership’s most creative midfielders.
Luka Modric is the architect of almost all Croatia’s good play – think Zinedine Zidane for France in 1998 and 2006. Basically the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder makes Croatia tick. He played in ten of the Championship Qualifiers scoring a goal and two assist in the process. In total he has represented his country on 54 occasions and has scored eight goals.
Dubbed the ‘Croatian Cruyff’, he played in his first major Championships at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. However he is better remembered for his imperious performances in Euro 2008 where he led Croatia to the Quarter Finals stage and was included in the UEFA Team of the Tournament. He also converted the fastest ever penalty awarded at the European Championships in Croatia’s 1-0 victory over Austria. They went on to beat Germany 1-0 in the group stages before crashing out to Turkey.
At club level, he has fully merited the title of on the best playmakers in England and has bagged 24 assists for his club since his arrival. Before making the £16.5m move to England, Modric played for Dynamo Zagreb where he amassed a staggering 31 goals and 29 assists in only four seasons. Indeed if the past is anything to go by, Modric has still to reach his full potential since moving to the Premiership.
If Croatia are to successfully navigate through a daunting Group C, Modric will have to be at his best.
Other players to watch out for include Everton’s goal machine include Nikica Jelavic, Modric’s club mate Niko Krancjar, and Croatian captain and arguably one of the best right-backs in Europe Darijo Srna who is equally adept in midfield.
For the Group Stages of the tournament, Croatia will stay in the picturesque Sielanka Hotel in Warka, in central Poland. The plush hotel boasts 50 bedrooms (including five suites), a full gym and Spa and on-site training grounds. The Croats will be able to avail of two pitches – one of which is a full sized pitch which can hold up to 4,000 spectators while the other is a training-specific pitch. Special devices have been installed behind the goals to catch footballs while roofed seats for players and staff will also be put in place.
As if you didn’t know already, Croatia kick-off their Euro 2012 campaign against Ireland on the 10th June in the Municipal Stadium in Poznan in Poland. Bilic’s men then have the advantage of staying in Poznan for their second game – another night time kick-off against Italy four days later. For their final group game they journey north to Gdansk where they face reigning World and European Champions Spain.
- The modern Croatian team was formed in 1990 just before the country gained independence from Yugoslavia. They began life ranked 125th in the FIFA World Rankings but, after finishing third in their debut World Cup in 1998, they shot up the ranks to the third and became the most volatile movers in the World Rankings stakes.
- Croatia finished the qualification campaign as the country with the most corners. They won 86 corners in their 12 games, averaging seven a game. Portugal were next with 81 followed by Belgium on 73. Croatia were also the second most fouled team with 174 fouls against – just three behind Bosnia Herzegovina and 14 ahead of Ireland in third place.
- Davor Suker is Croatia’s all-time top goal scorer with 45 goals in 69 appearances. He finished top scorer at Croatia’s first ever World Cup in 1998 with six goals in seven games. He was also voted the second best player at the tournament behind Brazil’s Ronaldo.
On first inspection, Croatia’s recent form appears inconsistent, offering some hope for Trap and co. They lost 3-1 to Sweden in their last run out – a friendly back at the end of February. However it should be noted Coach Slaven Bilic used this game to experiment and rested some key players for the game. Before that they drew with Turkey which again is misleading as this was the second leg play-off with Turkey and having won 3-0 away, a draw was enough to see Croatia through.
Back in October Croatia easily overcame Latvia 2-0 after losing by the same score line to Greece. Ultimately little can be read into Croatia’s recent games and, as always, the Croats will prove they are a hard side to beat on the big occasion.
Sam joined Extratime for the 2011 season and is now the site's features editor. He is based in Dublin and covers all the clubs in the capital. He is also prone to the odd Drogheda game. If you would like to contact Sam, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.