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Croatians seek to emulate greatest success at Euro

Zagreb, June 7 (IANS) Croatia face an unenviable task of living up to the billing of being compared to their 1990s Golden Generation at the Euro 2016 football tournament.

The squad left from here towards the host country France knowing full well it won't be an easy task for the 23 players, coached by Ante Cacic, who are regarded as one of the best in the history of Croatian football and very often compared with the Golden Generation that won the bronze medal at 1998 World Cup in France, reports Xinhua.

Since then, Croatian players were present at almost every big tournament but they managed to pass the group stage only once, at Euro 2008, where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Turkey on penalties.

Eight years after that shocking loss, Turkey await Croatia once again, this time at the start of the Euro 2016 on June 12 in Paris.

"Turkey have a high quality team and players that play with a lot of passion, almost fanatic. Having said that, I am confident that my players can compete against any team in the world and that they will show their quality from the first match in France," Cacic said on Tuesday before the scheduled flight that took Croatian team to its French base, a holiday resort Deauville in Normandy.

"We could hardly wait to get there, to calm down and to focus on the job that is ahead of us," Real Madrid star Luka Modric said on Tuesday.

The spirit within the Croatian camp is high even though the team didn't experience the same euphoria as it did in the past.

Due to the current political and economical situation in the Baltic country and unpopularity of the present leaders of Croatian Football Federation, only some supporters came to see off the players at Zagreb airport on Tuesday.

"The atmosphere in the team is great," Modric said and added that he and his team-mates are not concerned about their own safety during the upcoming tournament.

"We are not worried about security and we are focused only on football."

"We are well prepared. We are full of confidence, strength and faith and I can promise that we will be giving everything in every second of every match in France to fulfill our goal and have a great result in the end," said Modric's team-mate Ivan Rakitic.

"We had enough of training. We all can hardly wait for the tournament to start. I already have butterflies in my stomach. It's time to show what we can do and I know that we are good enough to do something great," Rakitic added.

After the opener against Turkey, Croatian team will play against Czech Republic in Saint-Etienne on June 17. Four days later, on June 21, Croatia will play the closing match in the Group D against reigning European champion Spain in Bordeaux. Two best teams from each group will advance to knockout stage alongside with four best third-placed teams.

"It would be a great disappointment for me and my personal defeat if we wouldn't reach the knockout stage," Cacic said.

The new generation is confident that they can reach the high standard set by the greats at 1998 World Cup.

--IANS

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