The year was 2008. His team had a dream run to the quarter-finals beating the likes of Germany, Poland and Austria. In just their third appearance at the Euros, Croatia had stepped deep to leave a footprint on the football globe.

The quarter-final setup at the Ernst Happen Stadion (Vienna) saw the Croats come up against a resilient Turkey team who themselves had got the better of Czech Republic and Switzerland after being dealt with a blow at the hands of Portugal early on.

After the regular 90 minutes, you could see the love for Croatia in Slaven Bilicai??i??s eyes. The young manager, himself a World Cup semi-finalist in the 1998 World Cup, knew that his team couldnai??i??t give up having come this far. However, when Mladen Petric missed a third penalty and Hamit Altintop converted his from Turkeyai??i??s end, all hopes were dashed.

Bilic was broken but his stock rose high enough to bring him to the attention of footballing nations. He was approached by teams from various leagues to take up a managerial role but the former Hajduk Split manager refused to budge from the belief he lay in his team. Now, with Euro 2012 drawing closer and closer, Slaven Bilic has one last chance to drive his team out of the clutches of Spain, Italy and Republic of Ireland towards European glory.

The Golden Generation

Croatia gained independence on October 8th, 1991. Prior to that, it was the Yugoslavian team that was responsible for fielding Croatian players. A lack of involvement of the Croats and a heavy political uprising in the 90ai??i??s led several ethnic Croatian sides to form small teams and play amongst themselves. However, after gaining independence, Croatia was finally in a position to send out its own troops on the football pitch.

The country registered with FIFA and UEFA in 1992 and started at the bottom of the table at the 125th place in FIFA rankings. With qualification for Euro 96 just around the corner, former NK Dinamo Zagreb manager Miroslav Blazevic was handed over responsibility to guide the team through the annals of national football.

His first task was to get the men in red and white to qualify for the Euro 96 tournament in England. Barring a draw against Italy, the coach-turned-politician orchestrated victories over Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Ukraine in the qualifying stages.

Blazevic – The Mastermind

.

It was like being shot right into the beauty of outer space for the Croatian national football team. Having entered the tournament alongside tough opponents like Turkey, Portugal and Germany, it wasnai??i??t the easiest thing in the world to get past these heavyweights. However, to everyoneai??i??s surprise, Blazevicai??i??s side beat Turkey and knocked out reigning champions Denmark to advance to the knockout stages.

Sadly, this dream run was going to end at Old Trafford when the Croats were up against Germany. Die Mannschaft ran out winners with a 2 ai??i?? 1 victory over Blazevicai??i?? side, leaving them with their best ever finish at a European championship ai??i?? the quarter finals.

Blazevic was not going to give up that easy though. Two years later at the 1998 World Cup in France, his side was once again facing Germany in the quarters. Revenge was the word of the day as Croatia beat the then ranked second team in the world 3 ai??i?? 0. And although they lost the following semi-final game against France, they did finish third in the tournament after beating Netherlands.

It was hard for a team like Croatia to have achieved this much in such a short span of time but the efforts put in by players and Blazevic made it possible for them to shoot up to the third place in FIFAai??i??s 1999 rankings. The stars from this illuminated period are referred to as the ai???Golden Generationai??i?? in Croatian football.

If you make a comparison now, then there is a similarity between the characters of Miroslave Blazevic and Slaven Bilic. The players have faith in him for this reason and although they have been put in a tough group, Croatia are more than capable of surprises.

Team for Euro 2012

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb).

Defenders: Domogoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Tottenham), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa).

Midfielders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Tomislav Dujmovic (Real Zaragoza), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg).

Forwards: Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk).

Key Players

Luka Modric

His performance in Euro 2008 captured the attention of several clubs across Europe. After fending off competition from all over, Tottenham Hotspur were successful in landing the Croat for a record fee of 16.5 million pounds. Ever since his arrival in England, Modric has been nothing but a threat for any opposition he comes up against. His vision, creativity and ability to send in defense-splitting passes have made him an asset for club and country and there is no doubt that he will be playing a key anchoring role from midfield in this yearai??i??s Euro campaign.

Darijo Srna

One of the veterans in the team, Srna has turned into a versatile player under Slaven Bilic. Upon his arrival, Bilic pushed Srna higher up on the pitch to start on the right as a winger instead of his regular right-back position. The returns have been good. The captain has previously scored in the 2006 World Cup as well the 2008 Euro tournament in Austria-Switzerland. His presence is going to be vital on the pitch as we spoke about the surprises Croatia are capable of.

Nikica Jelavic

Having started his playing career at the same club as Slaven Bilic, Jelavic has come a long way from his Hajduk Split days to becoming quite a star at his current club, Everton. The Croat scored 9 goals from 13 League appearances last season in the Premier League and he cooked up quite a stir on the lips of Evertonians. With a quality partnering striker in Ivica Olic, Jelavic is a different taste for defenders and could prove to make the difference at the end of the day.

Manager Insight

He is law graduate from Croatia who also plays the guitar in a band. Yes, Slaven Bilic has many flavours to his lifestyle as there are to his personality. Speaking strictly about coaching though, Bilic started out his role as manager of Croatia with little experience. It was his love and attachment to the game and country that enabled him to power the team up into the top 10 in FIFAai??i??s rankings. Although this has now changed for the first time in six years, Bilicai??i??s contribution is certainly one to gain inspiration from as he refers to his job as more of a ai???dutyai???.

One Last Time…

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Following the end of Euro 2012, Bilic is set to take over managerial reins at Russian League outfit Lokomotiv Moscow as he embarks on a new journey.

Fixtures and Prediction

Monday, June 11th, 2012 v Republic of Ireland (01:15 IST in Poznan)

Thursday, June 14th, 2012 v Italy (22:30 IST in Poznan)

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 v Spain (01:15 IST in Gdansk)

Euro 2012 marks the end of a very able manager in Slaven Bilic. In the 6 years he has spent coaching his nation, Bilic has faced several upsets like suspending his star players Srna and Olic for missing their curfews, watching his team come close to their best performance in Euro 2008 and recently, witnessing Croatia slip out of the top 10 in FIFAai??i??s rankings. But with a confidence undeterred, Bilic will walk his team out in every game, preparing them for nothing but a win. Although Croatia might get the better of Republic of Ireland in the group stages, it is hard to see how they will get past Spain and Italy this time around. We predict a third place finish for the men in red and white.

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2 Responses to “Croatia At Euro 2012: Will Slaven Bilic Strike Gold in his Last Stint?”

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  1. James says:

    Balderdash!

    Italy are winless in the 5 games they’ve played Croatia. I don’t expect Italy to win against Croatia.

  2. hi says:

    I give Croatia the edge in the Ireland and Italy matches. I see Croatia advancing. Italy still has not beaten Croatia in a competitive match.