After the break-up of Yugoslavia and declaring independence on 25th June 1991, Croatia have been the most successful of the former-Yugoslavia states on the world football stage. After debuting in the European Cup in 1996, Croatia went on to claim third place in the 1998 World Cup that was held in France.
Croatia claimed the third-spot after a 2-1 win over the Netherlands with the likes of Robert Prosinečki, Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker and Slaven Bilić in the team that was considered the best in Croatian footballing history.
Since that unexpected success in France, the team have consistently qualified for the major tournaments with the exception of Euro 2000 and the 2010 South African World Cup. In qualifying for this year’s finals after just one defeat in ten games we decided to team up with Croatian Football News to ask a few questions about the eastern European team’s upcoming campaign.
After a solid qualifying campaign of only one defeat in ten games to reach the finals in France, what do you think of the team’s chances in Euro 2016?
The Croatian team’s chances in France depend on the atmosphere the national team coach manages to create within the squad before the Championship. If Ante Čačić is be able to motivate the team as Miroslav Blažević did in 1998 when Croatia won the Bronze medal at the World Cup, then they could fly high once again.
It seems that the Croatia have been handed a really tough group alongside holders Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic. How do you think they will do in the group?
The group is very tough indeed. Croatia can beat every team in the world on their day, but only if the team is focussed and devoted in their matches which is lacking at times.
What kind of tactics do you expect the team to employ during the finals? Will Ante Čačić already have his game plan organised?
The coach will definitely have his plans, but the Croatian team is very capable of changing systems quickly and effectively. The coach has a variety of combinations in terms of players and tactics that he will be able to utilize in France to suit the opposition.
Who will be the key players for the Croatia in the summer?
It is tough to say who will be the key player this summer as there are many important players. But if we had to pick names we’d choose from the following Ivan Perišić, Ivan Rakitić, Luka Modrić or Mario Mandžukić who are all capable of taking on that role for the team.
Everyone has known about Alen Halilović for some time now. How do you rate his progression?
Alen Halilović is certainly a talented player. That said, he still needs to calm down and wait for his occasion to shine. Halilović is currently out on loan at Sporting Gijón from Barcelona and seems to be doing well as he has become a first-team regular for the La Liga strugglers.
Are there any other potential star players coming through the youth ranks that we should know about?
Marko Pjaca of Dinamo Zagreb could come up as a surprise player in the future. Pjaca is a 20 year-old winger who has established himself in the Dinamo first-team since making the step up from NK Lokomotiva in 2014. He was named Croatian First Division Player of Season in 2014/15 and continues to attract interest from some of Europe’s most illustrious clubs.
Although he could well be one for the future, it is a pity that he got injured before the European Championship and may struggle to make it.
With the team qualifying with ease from a somewhat weak group, what can we expect in terms of preparation in the run-up to the finals – where will they be based and what friendlies are lined up?
The team will stay in the Deauville in north-western France for their time at the tournament. The friendlies won’t be an opportunity to show much as Croatia will meet Iran and San Marino at home. The coach has obviously preferred to schedule games that could give them a morale boost if they win with ease as they are expected to do.
Yugoslavia produced some of the best players in the recent history, what is the state of domestic football like in Croatia since the break-up of Yugoslavia?
Whatever we say about Croatian domestic football, the Croatian Football League or ‘Prva HNL’ still produces quality players that are exported each and every year.
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