For a country that only gained independence in 1991, Croatia have already made a massive contribution to European football. Their golden generation, which included players such as Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki and Zvonimir Boban, made an instant impression in their first major tournament by reaching the quarter-finals at Euro ’96, and followed that up by finishing
fourth third at the World Cup in France two years later.
Despite consistently qualifying for major tournaments ever since – Euro 2000 being the only exception – Croatia are rarely mentioned among the favourites – until now. Slaven Bilic’s side were almost faultless in qualifying, with home and away wins over England standing out as particular highlights, while their overall home form was almost exemplary.
Their hopes have been hit by the tragic injury suffered by leading striker Eduardo da Silva, who broke his leg playing for Arsenal against Birmingham back in February, and his goals will be sorely missed. The Brazilian born forward scored 10 times during the qualifying stage – only Ireland’s David Healy scored more – and he will be almost impossible to replace.
All hope has not been lost, however, and with a midfield as powerful as it is creative, Croatia have the tools to damage any side. If they are to prosper, expect the Premier League’s latest expensive import, Luka Modric, to be at the fore. Tottenham surprised many by beating off competition from the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan to gain the services of the supremely gifted playmaker. Despite his ungainly physique, Modric is difficult to shake off the ball, comfortable with either foot and packs a powerful shot from distance.
Bilic’s preferred formation allows space for not just one but two free spirits, with Modric supported by Portsmouth’s Niko Kranjcar. After the controversy over his selection at the last World Cup, where many believed he was only selected because his father Zlatko was the manager, the youngest-ever captain of
Dynamo Dinamo Zagreb has emerged as one of his nation’s outstanding players. His performances for the Fratton Park club this season have been key in their run to the FA Cup final and highest-ever top-flight finish. Arsenal are reportedly readying a £12m bid, but that fee will no doubt inflate if he reaches his potential in the summer.
Croatia Euro 08 Squad
Head coach: Slaven BiliÄ‡
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