Euro 2012 focus on Croatia: Bilic’s final farewell
Croatia may be seen as dark horses for the European Championships which kick off tonight.
Slaven Bilic and his side only reached the finals thanks to a play-off victory over Turkey in which the Croats won 3-0 over two legs.
Despite being drawn in the same group as the World, European and number one team on the planet in Spain, they just fancy snatching second place in the group at the expense of another big footballing nation in Italy.
For all the problems surrounding not just the on-field performances of the Italians, but also the state at which their domestic game lies, Croatia may feel they can take advantage and reach the quarters as they did four years ago.
Many of the individuals Slaven Bilic, preparing for his final tournament as Croatia manager, has picked in his 23-man squad are recognisable names, with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Niko Kranjcar, former Arsenal hot-shot Eduardo da Silva and Everton frontman Nikica Jelavic all representing the Southern Europe side.
Of course Kranjcar played a huge role for Portsmouth before his move to White Hart Lane, whilst Eduardo proved to be a fans’ favourite at Arsenal until the unfortunate event at St Andrews which saw the striker suffer a broken leg.
However, Jelavic has been an instant hit at Goodison Park. Joining the Toffees in January, he found the net 11 times in 16 appearances in all competitions for his club, helping them reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and finish a credible seventh in the Premier League.
Along with these star individuals, they boast the likes of Seville talisman Ivan Rakitic, Bayern Munich attacker Ivica Olic, and captain Darijo Srna, all of whom are capable of producing some magic moments.
Star Player: Luka Modric
However, if Croatia wish to go far in this tournament, then a lot will come down to midfield sensation, Luka Modric.
The centre midfielder is such a gifted player on the ball and with his passing ability, he can dictate the play and control the tempo of the game.
He is most effective as a playmaker, looking to the strikers in front of him to make darting runs behind the opposing defence, however, he has added a new dimension to his game since becoming a regular in the Tottenham midfield.
His ability to now read the game in cutting out opposition passes and track back consistently, to help break down attacking moves, means he has become a more versatile, or “complete” player and he can start counter attacks by turning defence into attack swiftly.
For all his influence on the pitch, however, one thing he is often criticised for, is his lack of goals and the Spurs man only has eight for his country. He’ll be looking to add to that total in Poland and Ukraine.
As the likes of Modric, Jelavic and Srna may get all the media attention and headlines, the Croats do also possess some almost unknown quantities in their squad.
Rising star: Ivan Perisic
Domagoj Vida and Milan Badelj are both just 23 years old, however, the other young starlet Ivan Perisic may be the pick of the bunch.
The midfielder was part of the Bundesliga 2012 champions Borussia Dortmund, scoring nine goals in all competitions. He also provided six assists in his debut season at the Westfalenstadion.
He may be remembered fondly by some people for scoring a sumptuous late volley against Arsenal in Dortmund’s Champions League game against the Gunners back in September and he also scored an important goal in the 2-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach in which the door opened for the German club’s eighth national championship.
Perisic’s capabilities may just help Croatia should they come stuck in any of their group games and a combination of him, with Modric, Olic and Jelavic may prove to be a winning formula.
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Domogoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Tottenham), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa).
Midfielders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Tomislav Dujmovic (Real Zaragoza), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg).
Forwards: Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk).
Expected starting line-up line v Republic of Ireland(10th June)
Pletikosa, Corluka, Simunic, Strinic, Pranjic, Srna, Rakitic, Modric, Perisic, Olic, Jelavic.