Croatia

Population: 4,500,000
Area: 56,538 km²
Capital: Zagreb
Language: Croatian

 
THE ROAD TO GERMANY
Croatia remained undefeated in UEFA group 8 identical on points with Sweden, but ahead on aggregate score between them.
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MATCHES IN 2006
Jan 29 South Korea v Croatia 2-0
Feb 01 Hong Kong v Croatia 0-4
Mar 01 Croatia v Argentina 3-2
May 23 Austria v Croatia 1-4
May 28 Croatia v Iran 2-2
Jun 03 Croatia v Poland 0-1
Jun 07 Spain v Croatia 2-1

 
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Participations: (2) 1998 and 2002
Best placing: Third place 1998
Topscorers: Davor Suker, 6 goals
More detailed history information

 
FIRST ROUND MATCHES
Jun 13 - CRO v BRA  in Berlin
Jun 18 - CRO v JPN  in Nuremberg
Jun 22 - CRO v AUS  in Stuttgart

 
PWC STAFF VERDICT
- Croatia in Group F -
Jan Alsos: 3rd place
Pierre Boisrond: 2nd place
Ruud Doevendans: 3rd place
Mike Gibbons: 2nd place
Peter Goldstein: 3rd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 3rd place
Felipe Santos: 3rd place
PREDICTION: To KO-stage



GIANT-KILLERS AGAIN?


by Mike Gibbons


    If there is one team at this World Cup who will not go into games against their supposed betters with an inferiority complex it is Croatia. Whereas being drawn to play one of the more fancied nations can break the spirit of a team before it even gets on the pitch, the Croatians actually seem to thrive on it. In their World Cup debut in 1998 they beat Germany and Holland on the way to finishing third, and may very well have reached the final had they not got absurdly cocky after going one-nil up against France in the semi-final. In the Far East four years ago they came from a goal behind to beat Italy in the group stages and France were lucky to escape with a draw against them in the last European Championships. A spectacular 3-2 victory of Argentina in March has bolstered self-belief even further.

    This type of bullet proof confidence against big teams could well stand them in good stead in Germany this summer, and it will need to. Opening games donít come much tougher than Brazil, whom Croatia take on in Berlin on June 13th. With Japan and Australia to follow Croatia are still many peopleís fancy to qualify from this group along with the world champions, but losing your first game can put you under intolerable pressure no matter who you are facing afterwards.

    Coaching the squad will be Zlatko Kranjcar who took over from Otto Baric after the disappointing Euro 2004 campaign. With no defeats in competitive internationals under Krancjar confidence in the squad is high. Croatia were one of the first teams to qualify for this World Cup, running away with their qualifying group along with Sweden, making this the fifth tournament out of six that they have qualified for in their short history. The Croats were unbeaten in qualifying and went through automatically, beating Sweden at home and away to secure top spot in Group 8. The current squad may not have the calibre of the Suker-Boksic-Boban-Prosinecki generation, but there are enough good players there to help the Croats advance to the knockout stages.

    One of the key players in qualifying for Croatia was Darijo Srna of Shakhtar Donetsk. Playing from the right of midfield he scored five goals in the qualifiers, including the winning strikes in both home and away 1-0 wins over chief group rivals Sweden, which effectively secured the group for his team. Joining him in midfield is the captain of the team Niko Kovac of Hertha Berlin, now 34 years old and on his second stint with the Bundesliga team. His brother Robert plays in the slightly more glamorous Juventus team in Serie A and will be in charge of marshalling the defence.

    Other likely options in midfield are Marko Babic of Bayer Leverkusen, who was a bit-part of their thrilling run to the Champions League final in 2002 but is now a fully established first team player. Joining him will be Dario Simic of AC Milan, now 30 years old and unable to hold down a place in a Milan midfield containing Pirlo, Gattuso and Seedorf but still an excellent option, can also play in defence and is and likely to become his countryís most capped player during the finals. Jerko Leko will be putting himself in the shop window after deciding to leave Dynamo Kiev this summer and will be hoping to attract the interest of Bundesliga clubs. Niko Kranjcar of Hadjuk Split, who has what may be the added advantage of daddy picking the team, and Ivan Leko of FC Bruges should also make the squad.

    Joining Robert Kovac in defence will be the giant figure of Igor Tudor, formerly a stalwart at Juventus but now plying his trade with Sienne. Josip Simunic is another centre-half with a good reading of the game, and being Australian by birth will be looking forward to the potentially crucial encounter in Stuttgart on the 22nd June between Croatia and Australia. Stjepan Tomas of Galatasaray will complete the defence along with Mario Tokic of Grazer AK. Keeping goal behind the defence should be FC Bruges goalkeeper Tomislav Butina, although he is currently injured so they may need to turn to Stipe Pletikosa who plays at Donetsk with Srna. In all the Croatian defence conceded just five goals in qualifying and could be the basis for success in Germany.

    In attack Dado Prso has only managed 9 goals in 28 games at Rangers this season but scored several crucial goals in qualifying and is certain to start. Bidding to partner him will be Ivan Klasnic, a regular scorer of goals in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen although he has often struggled to translate his club form into the international arena. Bosko Balaban will also be looking for a place as he continues his rehabilitation from a couple of horrendous seasons at Aston Villa with new club FC Bruges. Ivica Olic of CSKA Moscow is looking to overcome a knee injury to make it to the finals and the veteran Ivica Mornar may struggle to make it, particularly with his less than impressive return of one goal in twenty-one caps. The not very Croatian sounding Eduardo de Silva, a native of Rio de Janiero, may make it after several impressive seasons with Dinamo Zagreb. His team-mate Ivan Bosnjak has a good chance of selection with the added bonus that he can play in midfield.

    The Croatians are reasonably upbeat about their chances this summer. Drawing Brazil and having to play them first was tough but they should have enough quality to take on Australia and Japan and get out of the group. Beyond the first round they will have to play one of Italy, USA, Ghana or the Czech Republic from Group E, which outside of Group C is probably the toughest and most evenly matched. The quarter-finals should be a realistic aim for Krancjarís men, but as the world saw in 1998 they fear no team and are capable of big surprises.


 

 

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