thumbnail Hello,'s Ayush Srivastava gives you a detailed analysis of what to expect when Slaven Bilic's side take to the field during the European Championships.....

Croatia are the least populous nation competing in the Euros this year, but since their very independence in 1991, they have been a team with an undoubtable pedigree in football.

While in the same group as Italy and Spain, nobody can write off Slaven Bilic and his closely knit squad, as they are known to overachieve on such stages.

Qualifying to the Championship via the play-off route, as always, the Vatreni played some breathtaking football, with Bilic, largely perceived as a maverick who loves to fiddle around with tactics and formations, masterminding another successful qualification campaign.



How Croatia defend

Croatia’s intent on attacking from the start is perhaps more of a necessity than a choice, as the Croats have failed to fill the void in defense left by the Kovac brothers – centre-back Robert and defensive midfielder Niko.

With Josip Simunic completely out of form, and Dejav Lovren forced out with injury, Bilic must get nightmares about his central defence, where Eintracht Frankfurt's Gordon Schildenfeld is now expected to start.

The Vatreni can hence be expected to play a deeper line during the Championship, though Bilic’s insistence to play attacking full-backs leaves them even more vulnerable in defense.

Tomislav Dujmovic, who has flourished in recent times, will most likely be assigned the tough task of providing a screen infront of the defense, while Luka Modic might also have to drop back and help out in defense when needed.

Darijo Srna, a right back by trade, has been employed at right midfield in front of Vedran Corluka in recent times, providing cover on the wings. Niko Kranjcar, expected to start on the other wing, will be expected to provide similar work-rate infront of Ivan Strinic, who could start at left back.


How Croatia attack

Bilic’s side has a hold no prisoners style of attacking, with the strikers, likely to be Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic in Ivica Olic’s absence, providing two great options upfront, and are usually joined by the entire midfield when attacking.

Modric of course will be expected to pull the strings in midfield, as he does for his club side Tottenham Hotspurs. Kranjcar provides guile and invention from the left wing while Darijo Srna, who provided on an average, 13.50 crosses per game, the highest average by any player, during the qualification campaign, will be expected to provide width and good delivery into the box for the strikers to prosper from.

The overlapping wing-backs are a key part of Bilic’s gameplan, who relies more on drilling into his players their individual responsibility than on a formation as such.

The likes of Ivan Perisic, Eduardo, Nikola Kalinic and Ivan Rakitic provide potent threats off the bench.



Strengths – Undoubtedly it is their attacking prowess which is their biggest strength. While Olic’s absence is a big blow, having replacements like Jelavic and Kalinic means the experienced old pro won’t be missed too much. Few teams can boast of a playmaker of Luka Modric’s abilities in their ranks.

Weakness – While overflowing with options upfront, at the back the bench strength is way too thin. Lovren’s injury means Simunic and Schildenfeld are set to start at the heart of their defense. Both of whom are known to have dodgy moments, with Simunic in particular having gone through a lean period over the past few months and one only wonders how they will be able to withstand the barrage that Spain or Italy might subject them to.

Opportunity – Their usual ability to punch above the weight in big competitions and the fact that this is Bilic’s swansong coupled with the Vatreni being perceived as underdogs of the group might see them progress as the dark horses from the group.

Threats – They face off against Republic of Ireland first up, who employ a playing style that one could call as anti-Croatia in nature. A loss or even a draw against Giovanni Trapattoni’s side shall be a massive setback to Croatia’s hopes of qualifying from the group.



"We showed in 2008 that we know how to play and we will be ready again. I can't say that this side are better than in 2008, but I can say that I think I am better. We went to Austria [and Switzerland] to win the Euros and we are going [to Poland and Ukraine] with the same ambitions now.
- Slaven Bilic


Such is the freedom and joy expressed in Croatia’s playing style, that one hopes that the group stages is not the last we see of them in Euro 2012. However they will be seen as third favourites behind Italy and Spain in Group C. However a slip-up by either side could see them go into the quarter-finals.

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