Croats wary of comeback merchants
It is time to stop talking about Croatia as the dark horses of Euro 2008 and instead recognise they are in Friday's quarter-final against Turkey on merit and fully capable of going all the way in the tournament.sports Updated: Jun 20, 2008 18:12 IST
It is time to stop talking about Croatia as the dark horses of Euro 2008 and instead recognise they are in Friday's quarter-final against Turkey on merit and fully capable of going all the way in the tournament.
Indeed, it would be more of a shock if the 1998 World Cup semi-finalists did not progress against a battered, bruised but not yet broken Turkish side in Vienna (1845 GMT).
Croatia did raise some eyebrows when they reached the last eight at Euro 96 only four years after coming into existence and it was certainly a stunning upset when they beat Germany 3-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals two years later.
But they are regulars at major tournaments now and come into Euro 2008 having topped their qualifying group ahead of Russia after seeing off England with home and away victories.
Once here they collected maximum points from their group after another win over the Germans to take top spot in Group B and earn their shot at the Turks, who snatched second spot in Group A with a stunning 3-2 comeback win over Czech Republic.
While reaching the quarter-finals in England 12 years ago was cause for celebration in the new country, coach Slaven Bilic, a player then, considers that the minimum expectation these days.
"We don't see ourselves as a revelation any more, although some people perhaps still do," he said.
"In our own eyes, we haven't achieved anything spectacular by reaching the last eight because that was our primary objective before the tournament started."
Poland's experienced Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker, whose team were eased aside 1-0 by Croatia's second-string in their final group game, always predicted that Bilic's team would top the section and thinks they can go further.
"They have a lot of talent and if they can act as a team and not fall back to individuals showing how good they are, and I think Bilic will make them play like a real team, then they will be very dangerous for anyone," Beenhakker said.
Bilic rested nine first-choice players in that game and is expected to recall them all on Friday, though Ivan Klasnic, who scored and was impressive against Poland, could start up front.
Turkey, World Cup semi-finalists themselves six years ago, have it all to do after giving so much, physically and mentally, against the Czechs.
Injuries and suspensions have taken seven players out of consideration and, despite some brave talk, there does not appear to be the depth in the squad to cover such a loss.
Goalkeeper Volkan Demirel is banned after his red card against the Czechs, meaning a recall for former number one Rustu Recber, while midfielder Mehmet Aurelio is also suspended. Despite the problems, however, their terrific late fightback in the Czech game has given the whole squad a massive dose of self-confidence.