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Croatia out to bring World Cup form to Euros party

With a population of around 3.8 million, Croatia's achievement in reaching the 2018 World Cup final and following that with a run to the semis four years later is one of the great underdog stories in the sport's voluminous annals.
Last Updated : 03 June 2024, 03:33 IST
Last Updated : 03 June 2024, 03:33 IST

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Perennial overachievers Croatia have made a habit of bucking predictions and making pre-tournament odds look ridiculous but, while their World Cup record is the envy of many, they have never quite hit the same highs in the European Championship.

With a population of around 3.8 million, Croatia's achievement in reaching the 2018 World Cup final and following that with a run to the semis four years later is one of the great underdog stories in the sport's voluminous annals.

Yet their history in Europe's continental contest lacks the same shine, with them having never been past the quarter-finals and falling in the last 16 at the previous two editions.

They will hope to put that right at Euro 2024 in Germany, in what will surely be the last hurrah for captain Luka Modric.

The 38-year-old, Croatia's talisman and schemer-in-chief, has lifted every trophy going at club level with Real Madrid and would love to crown his incredible career with international honours.

The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, who has won multiple LaLiga and Champions League trophies, has seen his playing time at Real limited this season but he remains the lynchpin in a Croatia side that on paper lacks the star quality of some of their rivals.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic referred to Modric last year as "footballing perfection" and "superior (to others) in every possible way" but he has also proven a master at melding a team of lesser talents that is almost always greater than the sum of its parts.

Having had a journeyman career before taking on Croatia in 2017, Dalic's World Cup achievements, while also reaching the Nations League final in 2023, make him the most successful coach in the country's history.

In qualifying for the Euros, Croatia finished second in Group D a point behind Turkey, earning five wins in their eight games, with two defeats.

Their top scorer was Andrej Kramaric with four goals and, while those efforts proved important, the team ethos was reflected in the fact that their 13 goals in the qualifiers were spread between seven players.

The first task for Croatia at the tournament will be escaping arguably the hardest of the six groups after they were drawn alongside Spain and Italy in Group B, with the fourth team Albania heavy favourites to exit at the first hurdle.

The group winners, runners-up and best four third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.

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Published 03 June 2024, 03:33 IST

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