After becoming a fully-fledged nation in 1991 Croatia quickly grew into a powerhouse of world football. Despite nurturing and producing some of the best talent available in world football, the dark side of Croatian football has too often overshadowed their ability on the pitch in recent times.
How They Qualified: Croatia were docked a point in their qualifying group for the racist behavior of their fans in the 1-1 draw with Italy in Split, a trait which is sadly reoccurring within Croatia over the past decade. Still, a 1-0 victory over Malta gave Croatia a 2nd place berth behind Italy in Group H, only a single point ahead of Norway. Ivan Persic scored the crucial goal in the Maltese capital taking his qualification tally to 6.
Tournament History: Quarter-finals 1996, 2008.
Coach: Ante Cacic.
Croatian Football Federation president, former Golden Boot winner Davor Suker, appointed Cacic in haste when only 2 wins from the final 2 group games was going be enough to see them through to the tournament in France. Cacic, a former TV and radio repair man and one time Libya assistant coach, had only been manager of Lokomotiva Zagreb for a matter of months when he was put in charge of the national side. His number two is the former Croatia and Hertha BSC defender Josip Simunic who was banned by Fifa for 10 international matches for giving a fascist salute. Within a week of his ban expiring he was hired by the Croatian Football Federation.
Nicknames: Kockasti (Checks)
Key Man: Ivan Rakitic.
Anyone who can hold down a place in the latest Barcelona team has to be considered one of the world’s best. Rakitic has surpassed the now former golden boy of the Croatia team, Luka Modric, despite the latter pulling the strings in many a Galactico victory this season. Rakitic is a complete midfielder with an all round prowess that is indispensable for both club and country.
One To Watch: Alen Halilovic.
Many are saying that this kid is perhaps just one season away from making it into the Camp Nou in a Blaugrana shirt on a regular basis . Hailed as ‘the next Messi,’ the diminutive forward will never be THAT good but definitely has the potential to get us on the edge of our seats this summer. Among his talents is the ability to dribble as excessive speed and shoot with either foot, as he has demonstrated on loan at Sporting Gijon this season.
June 12, 9 p.m. vs. Turkey
June 17, 12 p.m. vs. Czech Republic
June 21, 3 p.m. vs. Spain
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Ivan Vargic (Rijeka).
Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Ivan Strinic (Napoli), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Ante Coric (Dinamo Zagreb), Marko Rog (Dinamo Zagreb).
Forwards: Marko Pjaca (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Duje Cop (Malaga).