Euro 2012 Team Preview: Croatia


If they were a pop star they'd be...

Amy Winehouse.

Despite her many detractors, Winehouse always managed to do it where it mattered, in the studio. Despite their critics, Croatia are at another major tournament, and have missing out on two since independence in 1991.

Manager's pedigree

Despite being the second youngest coach at Euro 2012, Slaven Bilic is the third longest serving. In his time in charge, Croatia have only lost seven of 61 games, successfully navigating two out of three qualifying campaigns. Bilic has more wins than any other Croatia coach since independence. This will be his last tournament, however: he has agreed a deal to coach Lokomotiv Moscow next season.

Selection dilemmas

With Ivica Olic ruled out by injury, the battle is on for the starting positions up front. The consensus is that Bilic will play two up front against Ireland in the opening game and then a lone striker against Italy and Spain. Eduardo, Nikica Jelavic and Nikola Kalinic will be well known to Premiership followers, whilst Mandzukic played 10 of the 12 qualifiers. It is yet to be decided who starts, however.

Expectation/mood back home

Expectations are the lowest they’ve been in the Bilic era. Many believe third spot in the group would be a success based on the quality of opponents, whilst others believe some players have become too relaxed under a coach already on his way out. Usually very well supported, Croatia will have fewer fans than they’ve had at any other major tournament.

Main man

If Luka Modric plays well, Croatia play well. His form in recent months hasn’t impressed, so much so that the Croat fans even booed him in the friendly defeat to Sweden in February. Ivica Olic is arguably just as important to the side, but his injury probably spells the end of his international career.

Most likely to be top scorer

It all depends on who starts, but Nikica Jelavic’s end-of-season form for Everton should give him and edge over the others. Priced at 50.00 to be top scorer, a victory over Ireland in the opener gives Croatia a great chance of extending their tournament.

Most likely to get sent off

Josep Simunic is an experienced campaigner, but his old legs will be tested by Spain's nippy attackers. He could easily pick up two bookings despite not being a voilent player.

Three unknowns to keep an eye out for

Ivan Perisic (Dortmund,) Dejan Lovren (Lyon) and Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla) and hardly household names but are part of the ‘new’ generation who will likely take over from the ‘golden’ generation of Olic, Eduardo and Simunic.

Prediction

It might be optimistic, but a win in the first game against Ireland (coupled with Italy dropping points in their opener) would give Bilic’s men a good chance of progressing. A quarter-final exit would still represent an excellent and unexpected finish to Euro 2012 and Bilic’s reign. So close to the semi-finals at Euro 2008, this generation knows this is their last chance of glory. Anything beyond that would perhaps represent the biggest achievement in Croatian football history. Croatia to qualify from Group B at 2.40.