Euro 2016: Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic just two of the stars set to propel Croatia to glory
The Euro 2016 edition is the first time the competition has 24 countries participating in the event making it one of the most unpredictable and exciting tournaments in recent times. While many think traditional powerhouses like Germany, France or Spain will take home the trophy, one can never discount teams like Belgium, England and Italy as well.
However, one team which is flying under the radar but is really capable of upsetting the apple cart is Croatia. The Croatians have a very strong team and although they struggled in qualifying and just about made it to the Euros, one can definitely not discount the quality present in Croatia’s ranks.
Croatia have far from an easy group in the Euros, with Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic providing stern competition. Also, Croatia's new coach Ante Cacic, who took over from Niko Kovac, is under question from the Croatian fans and media as the 62-year-old former TV and radio repairman lacks major coaching success. However, things have certainly been looking up for the Vatreni as they have remained unbeaten in their last 5 games. One of those games included a record breaking 10-0 victory over minnows San Marino and Croatia will be quietly confident of causing problems to any side in the world.
Croatia’s real strength is in midfield
The Vatreni midfield is packed with some amazing players like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic. Modric and Rakitic have been unsung heroes in the successes of Real Madrid and Barcelona and they are clearly among the best midfielders in the world currently. Luka Modric’s ability to tackle in defence, secure the ball and then feed the forwards is simply stunning. His remarkable calm when carrying the ball converted what for other midfielders would be uncomfortable situations into attacking scenarios.
Former Croatia manager Slaven Bilic said Modric "is a player who makes others better, they all benefit from him being in the team. He's not selfish, he's playing for the team ... he's a complete player; good in defence, good in offence—it looks like he was born with the ball at his feet".
His midfield partner Ivan Rakitic is another truly world-class star in the Croatia line-up. A player who never gets tired and always provides options in attack, Ivan Rakitic has already gained worldwide recognition thanks to his exploits with Barcelona. He is one of the most important names in this Croatia line up as he is capable of providing a defence-splitting pass as well as helping out defensively taking the pressure off his midfield colleagues. He is a player who is not afraid of getting his hands dirty, and can be dangerous in the attacking third of the pitch with his eye for goal.
While a lot can be spoken about Rakitic and Modric, one cannot also ignore players like Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic who are capable of causing problems to the best of defences.
Rakitic and Modric are not the only stars for Croatia
In terms of attack, the name headlining the Croatia squad is Mario Mandzukic. Mario Mandzukic has had a mixed season for Juventus, but there is no doubt that the tall striker will be vital for Croatia’s chances at Euro 2016. The midfield duo of Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic will create a bucket load of chances and Mandzukic is just the type of striker required to provide the finishing touches.
An excellent header of the ball, Mandzukic can create problems for any defender aerially. The Juventus’striker positioning is also very good and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Croatia have a really good squad this time and they will need Mandzukic to be at his very best if they are to have an impact in the Euros. One of the most experienced members of the squad with 65 international caps, Croatia will be hoping that the Juventus target man fires them to the quarter-finals and beyond.
With 4 clean sheets in their last 5 games, the defence is also coming together at the right time. Although the defensive backline is not as star-studded as the midfield, players like Darjio Srna and Vedran Corluka have the experience of playing in big games.
A lot rested on how Croatia started off in their crucial group match against Turkey on 12th with a Luka Modric stunner helping Croatia to a 1-0 victory in their opening match. The Euros this time promises to be one of the most exciting tournaments ever, and Croatia are set to play a major role in the excitement.
The biggest advantage Croatia have is the fact that both Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are proven match winners with their immense performances for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. With their skill, determination, and mentality, this is a midfield that can take Croatia far.
Navigating a tricky group stage will be the major concern for this talented squad as they know that in the knockout stages, they are capable of beating any team on their day. The Vatreni will be determined to play some eye-catching football and leave their mark on the Euros.