This Croatian generation definite dark horses for Euro 2016
Matt Haynes | January 27, 2016
Croatia are 22/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016, and have enough about them to cause an upset, particularly in the middle of the park, where they have an abundance of options.
Midfield magic can spark Croatian summer of success
Arguably, on paper, Croatia have one of the best midfields going to France this summer. However, if they are to stick with a three, then head coach Ante Cacic will have decide who he picks. There is no doubt that Real Madrid star Luka Modric will be a shoe-in and if fit, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic must also start, providing the engine as well as possible goals from deep.
However, in Mateo Kovacic, who has started to show encouraging signs at Los Blancos, they have someone, who if he reaches his full potential can have a significant effect for Croatia at the tournament. This could be the perfect stage for the youngster to demonstrate to Real boss Zinedine Zidane what he can do on the big stage, so if given the opportunity he will definitely be one to watch.
In Alen Halilovic, who Barcelona have sent out on loan to Sporting Gijon this term to gain experience, they have somewhat of a wildcard who is considered one of the brightest young talents in European football with an ability to leave opponents standing. Marcelo Brozovic is another alternative, though like the previous trio, is more of a creative force.
All of this flair, does have a danger of leaving them exposed at the back, and while Milan Badelj isn’t exactly your typical defensive midfielder – more of a deep-lying playmaker – his strengths lie more in anticipating the pattern of play, rather than aggression.
Lack of genuine firepower means pressure for Mandzukic
Having made his name at the last European Championship where he finished joint-top scorer, which earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, Juventus frontman Mario Mandzukic will be looking to emulate his form this time around. He can capitalise on service from a highly creative contingent behind him, similar to what Paul Pogba provides him with for the Turin titans.
Mandzukic’s form for the Old Lady in his debut Serie A season may not live up to his exploits in Spain (Atletico Madrid) and Germany (Wolfsburg before Bayern) but, considering more mobile competition for places and a policy of rotation by Massimiliano Allegri, he should still easily get double figures.
Likely to be flanked by veteran forward Ivica Olic as well as Ivan Perisic, Mandzukic will have identified the Euro 2016 group games against Turkey and Czech Republic as scoring opportunities; however, the Spain match presents a great chance for him to test David de Gea at crosses with the goalkeeper having had problems with this area of his game in the past.
It will be interesting to see how Leicester City-owned striker Andrej Kramaric will fare while out on loan at Hoffenheim, which could influence Cacic’s thought process and with three goals in nine appearances so far, it could present a selection headache for the Croatian coach.
Full backs boast bonus outlet
In captain Darijo Srna and Sime Vrsaljko on the right and left side of defence respectively, Croatia have natural width and a goal threat from the former. Having scored 21 goals in 127 throughout his career for the national team, he is also known for his pinpoint crossing ability and, if he can link up effectively with Mandzukic at the Euros, it could well be a key source of goals.
On the other side, Vrsaljko, who is naturally right-sided, though has versatility, is a bright prospect and his performances at the last World Cup earned him a move to Sassuolo from Genoa. There aren’t many national teams who have two attack-minded full backs and, while this can cause the centre of defence to be left somewhat exposed, it should see Badelj drop back to form a three, in an effortless style switch.
Croatia have always been there or thereabouts and generally qualify from their group. The consensus is though, if they do progress, their midfield will likely play a key part in helping the effort.