Coach: Ante Cacic
Colours: Red and white shirt, white shorts, red and white socks
v Turkey (June 12, Paris)
v Czech Republic (June 17, Saint-Etienne)
v Spain (June 21, Bordeaux)
Quarter-Finals (1996, 2008)
Group Stage (2004, 2012)
Since stepping onto the field as an independent nation for the first time in 1992, Croatia have featured in all but one of the proceeding European Championship tournaments. A remarkable feat, though little surprise when considering the plethora of talent to have donned the two-tone tartan in recent years. Any claims of a ‘Golden Generation’ may be slightly hyperbolic but an impressive rota featuring the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic have many quietly believing Europe’s perennial dark horses can pip the pedigrees to the post this summer.
Furthermore, ‘the blazers’ are due a bit of luck. Netting the opener after 119 minutes rarely results in anything other than jubilation, but Croatia’s last-gasp collapse, and subsequent penalty shootout heartbreak, against Turkey in 2008 underlined a tendency to underperform on the big occasion. As did their group stage exit in 2012, sent packing by an 88th minute Jesus Navas goal. Similar lapses will ruin any dreams of a first podium finish since the 1998 World Cup.
How They Got There
With more drama than an EastEnders festive slaughter. Croatia somehow contrived to make hard work of a qualifying group most diplomatically described as ‘favourable’, only booking their place on the Euro guestlist with a final round win against Malta coupled with Norway’s defeat at Italian hands.
Furthermore, the continued concerns surrounding racial chanting, plus the disturbing matter of a Swastika being carved into the grass against Norway, have done little to ease the growing tension between the fans and the federation. Neither did the sacking of former captain Niko Kovac after a run of just one win in four qualifiers and the subsequent appointment of 62-year-old Ante Cacic, whose close relationship with Zdravko Mamic, the most powerful man in Croatian football, underline many an ugly allegation. Oh, did we mention Mamic was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion and bribery last November?
v Malta 2-0 (h), 1-0 (a)
v Bulgaria 3-0 (h), 1-0 (a)
v Azerbaijan 6-0 (h), 0-0 (a)
v Italy 1-1 (h), 1-1 (a)
v Norway 5-1 (h), 0-2 (a)
Take your pick. The world class duo of Modric and Rakitic remain close friends off the pitch despite squaring up on either side of the La Liga battlefield. However, the one-man battleram that is Mario Mandzukic could prove the difference between another early exit and a first foray into the latter stages of this most open of tournaments.
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Ivan Vargic (Rijeka)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Napoli), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic (both Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marko Rog, Ante Coric (both Dinamo Zagreb)
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), Marko Pjaca, Duje Cop (both Dinamo Zagreb), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim)