Euro 2016

Croatia's flimsy defense could cancel out attacking prowess

Group D fixtures: Turkey (June 12, Parc des Princes), Czech Republic (June 17, Saint-Etienne), Spain (June 21, Bordeaux)
Tournament best: Quarter-finalists 1996 & 2008
Qualifying record: W6 D3 L1

Croatia head to France looking to put behind them both a troubled qualification campaign and two crushing disappointments in their previous appearances at a European Championship.

Eight years ago at Euro 2008, Croatia - having topped their group with a 100 per cent record - were seconds away from the semi-finals before a last-gasp Turkey equaliser in extra time led to a penalty shootout the Croats lost.

In 2012, they finished third in a group that contained eventual finalists Spain and Italy but would have knocked the latter out if they had found a late equaliser against the Spaniards in their final game.

This time, led by Primera Division stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, plus Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, the team has the quality to prevail in such tight situations but to do that they will have to cut down on the number of controversies.

Croatia began their qualification group with three wins and a draw in Italy, before thrashing Norway 5-1. But during that last game in Zagreb, home supporters hurled fireworks and missiles on to the field and aired racist chants which led to a fine and forced their next qualifier against Italy to be played behind closed doors.

The 1-1 draw led to more trouble as a swastika appeared to have been mowed into the pitch, which earned another fine, a one-point deduction and forced a further two games to be played in an empty stadium.

A goalless draw in Azerbaijan and a 2-0 defeat at home to Norway then caused manager Niko Kovac to lose his job, but new boss Ante Cacic safely steered the team to France with victories against Bulgaria and Malta.

Cacic will hope to build on his successful start and will be eyeing a group containing Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic as one they can qualify from.

Croatia certainly have the personnel to beat most opponents. Modric is a key cog in Real Madrid's midfield, while Rakitic's first season at Barcelona saw the club win the treble. The talented duo could be joined in midfield by Modric's Real Madrid team-mate Mateo Kovacic or Inter loanee Marcelo Brozovic.

Talented Barcelona youngster Alen Halilovic, who has spent the season on loan at Sporting Gijon, has been surprisingly left out.

Out wide, veteran skipper Darijo Srna continues to get up and down the right wing while Dinamo Zagreb's Marko Pjaca is an exciting youngster who has been linked with a move to bigger clubs and Ivan Perisic is impressing in Serie A for Inter.

In attack, the hard-working Mandzukic brings steel and a goal threat, while Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric and Fiorentina's Nikola Kalinic are further options to grab a goal.

It is in defence where Croatia might struggle, with Dejan Lovren not making the squad after falling out with Cacic. Vedran Corluka is experienced, while Domagoj Vida and Sime Vrsaljko are solid but unspectacular.

Nevertheless, if Croatia's star players are at their best, Cacic's men will be a team to look out for.


Ante Cacic

The 62-year-old has little experience at the highest level. He has had spells as manager at a number of Croatian clubs, including Dinamo Zagreb and Lokomotiva Zagreb, as well as a stint with Slovenian side Maribor, but his only international experience was three years as assistant with Libya's national team.

Luka Modric

Developed into one of the world's best midfielders with Real Madrid and, when fit, has been one of the first names on the team sheet under Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane. Originally an attacking midfielder, he has dropped further back as his career has developed and will be charged with controlling each game alongside Ivan Rakitic.

Euro 2016

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