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European Championship in focus: Spotlighting Croatia

Croatia-Euro previews

Man that matters:

Luka Modric: How clever was Tottenham Hotspur to get the creative midfielder’s signature just before Euro 2008, which soon became the man’s coming out party? A pace-setter and creative tempo-maker more than a scorer, Modric carried his country that summer as Player of the Tournament. And speaking of Tottenham, is it any surprise that Spurs’ late-season blues coincided with Modric’s own slump in form? Probably not.

First-round games:

June 10: vs. Ireland (Poznan, Poland)

June 14: vs. Italy (Poznan, Poland)

June 18: vs. Spain (Gdansk, Poland)

Foursome of knowledge:

  • Don’t be fooled by the relative lack of history (the country gained independence from Yugoslavia only in 1991). Croatia currently stands No. 8 FIFA’s world rankings. Already on the resume are European Championship quarterfinals appearances in 1996 and 2008 and a surprising third-place finish at World Cup 1998. Not bad for a country of about 4.3 million, the smallest at Euro 2012.
  • Modric is the star man on manager Slaven Bilic’s team, but Ivica Olic, Mario Mandzukic, Darijo Srna, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic are all attackers of considerable ability.
  • Srna in particular is worth watching. Much of the soccer world knows little of the man who plays at Shahktar Donetsk – mostly because the rising Ukrainian club has been his relatively anonymous address since 2003. Stationed on the right in Bilic’s four-man midfield, he has the composure, talent and experience to be a force, especially on Croatian counter attacks. And they are surely coming; hitting teams on the break is Bilic’s first-choice plan of attack.
  • The Croatian defense looks vulnerable to speed, especially as age has crept into the club.

Where they are going:

Vulnerabilities abound, but Croatia has surprised before. It’s really all about that Group C opener against Ireland. Croatia can’t like their subsequent chances against Italy, and certainly even less against reigning World Cup champs Spain. Then again, Ireland is surely thinking the same about that June 10 match inside the renovated Poznan Municipal Stadium.

Euro previews
The roster:

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Ivan Kelava (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Danijel Subašić (AS Monaco FC).

Defenders: Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa FC), Vedran Ćorluka (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Danijel Pranjić (FC Bayern München), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Josip Šimunić (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Darijo Srna (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Ivan Strinić (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Domagoj Vida (GNK Dinamo Zagreb).

Midfielders: Milan Badelj (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Tomislav Dujmović (FC Dinamo Moskva), Ivo Iličević (Hamburger SV), Niko Kranjčar (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Luka Modrić (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Ivan Perišić (Borussia Dortmund), Ivan Rakitić (Sevilla FC), Ognjen Vukojević (FC Dynamo Kyiv).

Forwards: Eduardo (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavić (Everton FC), Mario Mandžukić (VfL Wolfsburg), Ivica Olić (VfL Wolfsburg).

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.