Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
There are high hopes for the national team of Croatia going into Euro 2016. Croatian fans feel that this is the best team they have had since the 1998 World Cup in which they finished in third place. Croatia qualified for Euro 2016 by finishing in second place in a group behind Italy. However, being forced to play two home matches behind closed doors and receiving a one-point deduction certainly affected the Croatians charge for first place. Croatia also had a managerial change during the qualifying campaign with Niko Kovać being sacked and Ante Čačić was brought in to replace him. Despite all of this they still managed to qualify in second place, scoring 20 goals and conceding only 5.
When Čačić was appointed many wondered how a coach with no charisma would handle the big name players in the team. Čačić has proved the doubters wrong so far as his short time with Croatia has been a success. Previous boss Kovać favored a more hard running approach; Čačić however prefers a more creative approach with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic all thriving under his approach. Čačić has also showed that he is not afraid to confront problematic players with Dejan Lovren being left out of the squad over his reaction to being left on the bench in a friendly against Hungary. Ivica Olic was dropped from the squad despite his belief that he should be in the squad due to his lengthy service for Croatia with 104 caps. Immediately after gaining qualification for Euro 2016, Čačić stated that the current Croatian side could match the achievements of the vintage 1998 team. Croatia really believes that they can achieve something in France this year.
Since taking over, Čačić has favored playing a 4-1-3-2 formation getting the best out of Croatia's creativity. The only problem Čačić has with his team selection is that regular left back Josip Pivaric is out with a cruciate ligament injury. This means that Domagoj Vida will more than likely fill-in at left back. Sassuolo’s Sime Vrsaljko could also step up but he is far more effective on the right side. Many Croatians feel that Vida will be the weak link in this team. Apart from the left back spot, Čačić’s team should be pretty straightforward. Danijel Subasic of Monaco will protect the posts between the net. Captain Darijo Srna will play at right back, Vedran Corluka and Gordon Schildenfeld should occupy the center back spots with Vida more than likely slotting in at left back. Milan Badelj will hold as the defensive midfielder with Modric, Rakitic and Ivan Perisic playing as the midfield three in front of him. Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic will more than likely link up as the front two. In certain situations, Croatia will switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Marcelo Brozovic or Mateo Kovacic coming in for Kalinic leaving Mandzukic playing upfront on his own.
There is real expectation among the troublesome Croatian fans that this team can be champions in France. Croatia does have a tough group which features Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic but they should still be able to reach the knockout stage and once they get out of the group anything can happen for this team. Croatia will certainly have no fear of any team. With exceptional midfield talent, a tight defensive line and proven goal scorers in Kalinic and Mandzukic, Croatia have everything it takes to go all the way in France and win the Euro's for the first time in their history.
Croatia is the dark horse of Euro 2016 and is at a great price of 25-1 to win the tournament. I would certainly be putting some money on this talented Croatian team to lift the trophy in France this summer....