After missing out on the World Cup in 2010, Croatia return to a major international tournament hoping to repeat their previous success.
Always a good outside bet for the latter stages, the Croats must negotiate a tough opening group.
FIFA Ranking: 8
Elo Ranking: 11
Best Performance at European Championships: Twice quarter-finalists (1996 and 2008)
In their first tournament as a separate nation, Croatia surprised many by reaching the quarter-finals at Euro ’96. Emerging from a group that contained Portugal, Turkey and Denmark, it was Germany who put paid to their chances in the last eight.
In the last European Championships they won their group with a perfect record, defeating Germany, Austria and Poland to progress with a perfect record. Despite taking the lead in the 119th minute of the quarter-final with Turkey, they allowed the Turks to equalise and lost 3-1 on penalties.
How they qualified: Runners up in Group F (3-0 aggregate winners over Turkey)
Croatia finished second in their group, behind eventual winners Greece. Defeat to the Greeks and a surprise loss away in Georgia meant that Croatia would have to enter the competition via the playoffs.
Croatia beat Turkey 3-0 in the first leg of the playoff, effectively ending all hopes the Turks had of entry. Ivica Olic scored after three minutes, Mario Mandzukic added a second and Vedran Corluka added a third in the second half. The second leg finished goal-less, and Croatia progressed to the finals.
The Boss: Slaven Bilic
As a player Bilic was an integral part of the Croatian sides which forced their way into the upper echelons of the world rankings in the mid-to-late 90s. He took charge of Hadjuk Split for half of the 2001/02 season, but was soon lured away to the Croatian under-21s. After two years he graduated to taking control of the full national side.
In his first qualification campaign he led his country to Euro 2008, finishing ahead of England who Croatia famously defeated both home and away. Despite failing to make the South African World Cup, Bilic stayed on to lead his country to this year’s tournament. He will be stepping down at the end of Euro 2012 to take charge of Lokomotiv Moscow.
One to watch: Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund)
The 23-year-old midfielder has been used sparingly by his national team, but would appear to be the latest in a long line of creative, intelligent attacking midfielders produced by the Croats. In 2010/11 he managed 22 goals as a support player for Club Brugge, was voted Belgian player of the year and was rewarded with a move to Borussia Dortmund, where he won the Bundesliga this season.
Slavan Bilic has generally stuck to a tried and tested 4-4-2 formation. Stipe Pletikosa will certainly be the first choice goalkeeper, and the defence is almost certain to contain Vedran Corluka, Josep Simunic and Daniel Pranjic. Either Dejan Lovren or Gordon Schildenfeld will partner Simunic in the middle.
The midfield will certainly featured Dario Srna on the right, with Luka Modric in the centre and Ivan Rakitic on the left. Either Ognjen Vukojevic or Tomislav Dujmovic will sit a little deeper in midfield. Up front Ivica Olic will likely play off Mario Mandzukic.
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