As the end of the domestic season draws nearer, Euro 2016 is now on the horizon and ready to draw the eye of football fans all over the world. Hosts France head into the tournament as slight favourites, with 2014 World Cup winners Germany in second. Spain are third, England fourth and Belgium fifth favourites.
But what about the other teams? Does anybody have a chance of pulling off a Greece a la Euro 2004? Well, look no further than Croatia. The Eastern European nation have managed to put together a handy looking side and are on a good run of form heading into the summer. Without too much pressure on their shoulders, they might just be able to cause a huge upset.
Here are three reasons why Croatia should be considered as dark horses to take the Euro 2016 crown.
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Good Playing Squad
The Croatian central midfield is arguably one of the strongest heading to Euro 2016, featuring Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric. The two maestros will have to put club differences aside as they head to France, but if they can do so, then boss Ante Cacic will have one of the most dynamic and creative midfield units in the entire tournament at his disposal.
Add into the mix Milan Badelj, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic and wonderkid Alen Halilovic and it quickly becomes clear that Croatia will be a force to be reckoned with.
Not only do they have the energy and flair of Rakitic, Modric, Kovacic and Halilovic, but they also have Brozovic and Badelj to add balance, while the versatile Perisic always chips in with a few goals.
It is not only the midfield who will rightly frighten the opposition, however. With Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic leading the line, the Balkan side will be able to score goals against anybody. At club level, the Croatian forward always performs better in continental competition than in domestic, which bodes well for his performances this summer.
Vatreni also have an experienced defence containing the likes of Dejan Lovren, Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka and Sime Vrsaljko. The first three all have experience of playing the game at the very highest level for club and country. Meanwhile, Vrsaljko, at the age of just 24, has proved himself to be a talented full-back in Serie A with both Genoa and Sassuolo. He is currently part of the Sassuolo side that have defied all expectations to find themselves in seventh place in the league.
Results Under New Manager
There’s no two ways around it, Ante Cacic’s appointment as Croatia manager was extremely controversial. The vast majority of fans were displeased with the Croatian Football Federation’s choice to replace Niko Kovac as boss, but even so, Cacic has performed admirably since his installation. Doubts were creeping in as to whether Croatia would qualify for the tournament proper when he took over, but he guided them safely to France, finishing second in their group behind Italy.
Since he joined the national side Croatia have played five, won four and drawn once. Their best result so far was a 3-1 victory over Russia in a friendly last year and though they perhaps did not live up to lofty heights in the 1-0 win over Malta and a 1-1 draw with Hungary, Croatia have shown that they up their game when faced with tougher opponents.
Make up for Poor 2014 World Cup campaign
Although Croatia were not expected to make a huge impact on the 2014 World Cup, to go out in the group stages was still a great disappointment. Although they were given a tough task in the group stages in the form of Cameroon, Mexico and Brazil, to surrender 3-1 to the latter two sides was a bitter anti-climax. Star players Rakitic and Modric were unable to exert their influence fully against either of the Central American sides, their only win coming in the shape of a 4-0 trouncing of a 10-man Cameroon.
Players like Modric and Rakitic are used to winning and will not accept another meek surrender in the group stages of an international tournament. The Croatians have once again been dealt a tough hand in the early stages, placed alongside the Czech Republic, Turkey and Spain, but this is still a group they have the quality to emerge from.