The Croatian’s have an outstanding record when it comes to major tournaments – since joining FIFA and UEFA in 1992 as an independent nation from Yugoslavia, Croatia have only been absent from two major tournaments – one World Cup (2010) and one European Championship (2000).
Qualification for Poland-Ukraine came after Croatia had to come through the play-offs having finished two points behind Greece in their qualifying group after 7 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats. A 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey was enough to secure their place at Euro 2012.
It was almost as if things had come full circle with that play-off victory over Turkey because it was against the Turks in Euro 2008 quarter-final that it all unravelled for Croatia. A dramatic goal in the final minute from Ivan Klasnic and it look as if the Croatian’s were in the semi-finals only for Turkey to equalise in injury time and subsequently were victorious in the shoot-out.
Manager, Slaven Bilic, who is the third longest serving coach at the tournament will depart from the international set-up after the Euros to become manager of Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. His time in charge of the national side, since 2006 in underpinned by a very good overall record having won 40 of his 59 games, drawing 13 and being defeated on just six occasions.
When the final 23 man squad was announced, Nikola Kalinić, Šime Vrsaljko, Goran Blažević and Dejan Lovren were all dropped. The obvious key-man is Luka Modric who will pull the strings in midfield, his creative game will be important if Croatia are to do well. The likes of Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka, Niko Kranjcar (Croatia’s top scorer during qualification with 4 goals) and, Bayern Munich’s Danijel Pranjic will all be familiar names to watchers of the European game. Up front, the in form, Nikica Jelavic will have to fight it out for a starting birth with ex-Arsenal striker Eduardo and Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic who will retire from the international set up after Euro 2012.
It is certainly hard to tell how this Croatian side will fare. The interesting battle will certainly come in the first game against Ireland, the result of that game will be of importance if Croatia are have a chance of progressing to the next round, before facing Italy and Spain in the final two group games.
Fixtures: Croatia vs. Ireland (June, 10th), Croatia vs. Italy (June, 14th) and Croatia vs. Spain (June, 18th)