Euro 2012: spotlight on Croatia
- Sat 02 Jun 2012, 5:48PM
- Posted by Mark Booth
Seasoned underdogs Croatia are ready to upset the odds again in Slaven Bilic's farewell tournament.
The success story of the Croatian national team is one of the more remarkable underdog tales in recent international football history.
Despite only possessing a population of four million, Croatia have only failed to reach the European Championship finals once (in 2000) and the World Cup once (in 2010).
The general consensus in Croatia is that this team isn’t the equal of the so-called “golden generation” that finished third at World Cup 98 and they have been handed the unenviable task of facing Italy, Spain and Ireland in the group stages.
Much will rest on their opening fixture with Ireland on June 10. Win there, and there’s always the chance that Italy or Spain could knock the other out.
Vedran Corluka - 38 appearances for City, 1 goal - 2007-2008
Brought in during those exciting first days of the Sven Goran Eriksson reigime, Vedran Corluka was a popular member of the team that flirted with the upper echelons of the Premier League table in 2007/08 season.
The City faithful quickly warmed to the defender thanks to his distinctive duck-like running style amd sound reading of the game. Comfortable playing anywhere across the back four, Eriksson tended to field Corluka at full-back where he was deceptively quick to join attacks and deliver telling crosses.
Mark Hughes didn’t seem to share Sven’s enthusiasm for the headband-sporting Croatian and he was offloaded to Tottenham in September 2008, where he joined up with his best friend Luka Modric.
Corluka has 54 international caps to his name and will probably start in their first match of the tournament, thanks to a successful loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen in the second half of this season.
Ex-Everton and West Ham defender Slaven Bilic has done wonders in his time as the national team coach but this will be his last tournament in charge of the team.
Public opinion has turned a little sour for Bilic in recent times. There are whispers that he’s too friendly with his players and may have lost their respect for him but history will remember his spell in charge in a positive light, regardless of what happens in Poland and Ukraine.
One to watch
Any Wolfsberg supporters worried about replacing the goals of Edin Dzeko when he made the switch to the Etihad Stadium have been consoled by the emergence of Mario Mandzukic, the man who’ll lead the line for Croatia at this summer’s tournament.
Mandzukic scored one of the goals in the impressive Euro 2012 play-off win away at Turkey and if Croatia do manage to negotiate their difficult group, his goals might be crucial.
The Tottenham playmaker is a living legend in his homeland and after another good season in the Premier League, his creativity will be vital to his nation’s chances.
Modric has what Slaven Bilic has described as a “telepathic” understanding with former Arsenal striker Eduardo, which harks back to their days together at Dinamo Zagreb. With Eduardo back in form after his horrible leg break, their understanding will be needed to unpick a stubborn Ireland defence on June 10.
Odds via Paddy Power: 40/1
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Danijel Subasic (AS Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Tottenham), 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)
Next up: we evaluate Republic of Ireland and Germany's chances of success in the tournament.