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Group B: Croatia Qualified as winner of play-off ties against Slovenia
Croatia unlikely to be soft touch despite troubles
 

Croatia have had a difficult time preparing for Euro 2004 and there seems little chance of a third-place finish to match their 1998 World Cup campaign.

They are not without their strengths, which got them to the finals in the first place, but many players have been out of form or injured and there is a gaping hole in midfield.

With one or two notable exceptions, there are few players able to live up to the standards set in the late 1990s by the likes of Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker, Robert Jarni and Alen Boksic, the backbone of Croatia's best-ever side.

The current team, who qualified after a slender aggregate win in the playoffs against neighbours Slovenia, face tough opening-round opposition from defending champions France, potential challengers England, and Switzerland.

"We must beat Switzerland and then do our best against England," is the mantra from players, coaches and local pundits, who believe that with a decent result from their opening game against the Swiss, Croatia could still be in with a chance of progressing by the time of their final group match against England.

However, few are putting much money on Croatia getting out of the group although their unpredictability could give them an edge against defenders who might not know too much about the way they play.

Croatia's roller-coaster qualifying campaign ended on a high in November when Monaco striker Dado Prso's goal gave them a 1-0 win in Slovenia and a 2-1 aggregate playoff victory after it seemed they had blown their chance by drawing the home leg.

Prso, who made a name for himself when he scored four of Monaco's goals in their 8-3 Champions League victory over Deportivo Coruna in the same month, was one of 40 players used by coach Otto Baric as he struggled to find the right formula.

The playoff victory justified the Croatian FA's faith in Baric, who took over a team packed with veterans and low on confidence after an early exit from the 2002 World Cup finals when they failed to capitalise on a 2-1 win over Italy by losing 1-0 to both Mexico and Ecuador.

Baric set about replacing the old stalwarts and instilled discipline and a physical approach into Croatia's game. At the same time he travelled widely across Europe to unearth a reliable striker and a creative playmaker to boost his midfield.

The striker he found in Prso but the midfield still remains bereft of a gifted successor to Boban or Prosinecki, heroes of the 1998 World Cup side.

Baric's discovery of Prso, a relative unknown at home until he shot to prominence this year, has provided the answer up front. The 29-year-old was instrumental in group wins over Belgium and Bulgaria.

Croatia's defence, made up of a trio of experienced internationals -- Robert Kovac of Bayern Munich, AC Milan's Dario Simic and Igor Tudor of Juventus -- also more or less picks itself.

Baric must, however, decide whether he plays three or four at the back. If he opts for a flat back four, Josip Simunic of Hertha Berlin is likely to play on the left.

There are a number of other options open to Baric, who turns 71 mid-way through the tournament, but while he says his side could take on and beat almost anyone, he has admitted he is still looking for that "one creative genius to enrich our game".

Uncapped Dinamo Zagreb captain Niko Kranjcar is the name on everyone's lips but a groin injury prevented the 19-year-old from making his debut in friendlies against Germany in February and Turkey in March so the jury is still out.

Croatia might not be the force they were in 1998 but they will not be a soft touch either despite booking their place in the finals via the back door in the play-offs.

Their qualifying campaign gained momentum after a disappointing opening 0-0 draw with Estonia and a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria. They posted four straight wins over Belgium (4-0), Andorra (2-0), Estonia (1-0) and Andorra again (3-0) and then rose to the occasion to beat Bulgaria (1-0) to qualify for the play-offs.

So while Croatia are unlikely to match their exploits of six years ago, they could possibly reach the quarter-finals. France, Switzerland and England will underestimate them at their peril.
- Reuters

 « Star Player »

Name Dado Pršo
Position Forward
Club Monaco
DOB 05.11.1974

Pršo goes from zero to hero for Croatia

Croatia coach Otto Baric has his critics but he made at least one excellent decision last year when he gave Monaco's experienced but internationally untried Dado Pršo a chance to make his mark.
Last November it was payback time for the 29-year-old Pr
šo who had been knocking around Europe for some time, when he secured Croatia's place in the Euro 2004 finals with goals in both legs of their 2-1 aggregate playoff victory over Slovenia...   [more]

 

 « The Coach »

 

 « The Squad »

 Croatia

Players DOB Club Cap Goal
Otto Baric C 19.06.1933
1. Stipe Pletikosa G 08.01.1979 Shakhtar
12. Tomislav Butina G 30.03.1974 Club Bruges
23. Joey Didulica G Vienna
13. Dario Šimic D 12.11.1975 Milan
21. Robert Kovac D 06.04.1974 Bayern
5. Igor Tudor D 16.04.1978 Juventus
6. Boris Zivkovic D 15.11.1975 Stuttgart
3. Josip Šimunic D 18.02.1978 Hertha
4. Stjepan Tomas D 06.03.1976 Fenerbahce
14. Mato Neretljak D 03.06.1979 Hajduk
2. Mario Tokic D 23.07.1975 Graz
10. Niko Kovac M 15.10.1971 Hertha
7. Milan Rapaic M 16.08.1973 Ancona
15. Jerko Leko M 09.04.1980 Dinamo
16. Marko Babic M 28.01.1981 Leverkusen
8. Darijo Srna M 01.05.1982 Shakhtar
2. Nenad Bjelica M Kaiserslautern
20. Giovanni Rosso M 17.11.1972 Maccabi
9. Dado Pršo F 05.11.1974 Monaco
11. Tomislav Šokota F 08.04.1977 Benfica
19. Ivica Mornar F 12.01.1974 Portsmouth
18. Ivica Olic F 14.09.1979 CSKA
17. Ivan Klasnic F Werder
 

 

 

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Federation Hrvatski Nogometni Savez (1912)

Headquarter Rusanova 13 - 10000 Zagabria

Website www.hns-cff.hr

President Vlatko Markovic
Best Performance in Finals Quarter-Finalists in 1996
Recent record in Finals
1980 DNP
1984 DNP
1988 DNP
1992 DNP
1996 Quarter-Final
2000 DNQ

 

 « Road to Portugal »

0-0
0-2
4-0
2-0
1-0
3-0
1-2
1-0
1-1
1-0

v Estonia
v Bulgaria
v Belgium
v Andorra
v Estonia
v Andorra
v Belgium
v Bulgaria
v Slovenia
v Slovenia
H
A
H
H
A
A
A
H
H
A

 

 « Final Tournament »

B v Switzerland

   1800 CET 13 June 2004

B v France

   2045 CET 17 June 2004

B v England

   2045 CET 21 June 2004

 

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