Croatia are struggling to find an identity, with the mood around the team at an all-time low following a rash managerial change last autumn. Tactical experiments have done little to inspire confidence, so nobody quite knows what to expect.
Lesson from qualifying
Don’t rely on Mario Mandzukic. Despite starting nearly every game, the Juventus striker scored just one of Croatia’s 20 goals.
Any team would love to have a playmaker axis of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona Treble-winner Ivan Rakitic.
Manager Ante Cacic looks out of his depth. His largely unimpressive background does not earn him much respect or authority in a star-studded dressing room.
Most likely to…
Lead the way in fines for crowd behaviour. Radicals among the (remaining) fans have taken to making fascist salutes with full intention of harming the team, hoping embarrassment on the big stage will force changes in an FA that is widely considered to be corrupt and rotten to the core.
Least likely to…
Stick to one formation. In March’s friendly against Israel, the Vatreni went from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 within the space of 90 minutes.
What they hope will happen
Triumph despite the obstacles, miraculously winning back the nation’s hearts... perhaps.
What will happen
It could be the exact opposite: lose the opener against Turkey and their fragile confidence may go out of the window, along with any hopes of progressing.
Key player - Luka Modric
As ever, Modric pulls all the strings, even when he’s forced to play deep in midfield due to the lack of a true holder in the national team. You don’t always notice the full range of the Real Madrid man’s contribution but it’s always there, from ball retention to building attacks.
Manager - Ante Cacic
The serious 62-year-old fixed TV sets before his distinctly unspectacular coaching career. He isn’t popular, ridiculed by fans who think he’s in the job just because the FA feel they can control him.
Q&A - Danijel Subasic
What are Croatia’s strengths?
Our midfield, definitely. Any team with Rakitic and Modric would say the same. You can’t overestimate their importance – they give the team security. Rakitic is a regular for Barcelona, Modric for Real Madrid – what more do you need to say?
Who else should we look out for?
I’d highlight Ivan Perisic – and not just because he’s my room-mate! He was our best player in qualifying. Then there are the strikers, [Nikola] Kalinic and Mandzukic, and young guns such as [Mateo] Kovacic, [Mario] Pasalic and [Alen] Halilovic.
Is this group even harder than the one in 2012, with Spain and Italy?
It’s hard, but this group offers us a better chance. Obviously Spain are favourites again, but they weren’t exactly brilliant in the qualifiers.
Having been backup to Stipe Pletikosa, you’re now first choice – what does that mean to you?
It means a lot. This will be my fourth tournament, and Stipe was always ahead of me. Now my responsibility is far bigger and I’m ready for that.
Fixtures and results
June 12, Turkey - Paris, 9pm
June 17, Czech Republic - Saint-Etienne, Midnight
June 22, Spain - Bordeaux, 3am
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Group H runners-up
vs Malta (H) 2-0
vs Bulgaria (A) 1-0
vs Azerbaijan (H) 6-0
vs Italy (A) 1-1
vs Norway (H) 5-1
vs Italy (H) 1-1
vs Azerbaijan (A) 0-0
vs Norway (A) 0-2
vs Bulgaria (H) 3-0
vs Malta (A) 1-0
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
2004 Group stage
2012 Group stage
Words and interview Alex Holiga