Slaven Bilic revives Vatreni

This will be the last Euros played under the tight 16-team format that has delivered a big punch every day, with many of the best teams in the world playing each other in meaningful matches throughout the group stage.Next time around, at France in 2016, there will be 24 teams.

The group stages and 1/4 are over. Only 4 teams remain at Euro 2012. The semi finals kick off with Portugal and Spain renewing their Iberian rivalry on Wednesday but Croatia’s performance at Euro 2012 will long live in the memories of those who saw them play.

Croatia was in sorrow after its national side failed to qualify into the Euro 2012 quarter-finals after 1-0 defeat by Spain on Monday 18,a week before Statehood Day .The Balkan country succeeded to appear at six major tournaments out of eight attempts. Since representing an independent-from-Yugoslavia country Croatia has become an amazing part of any tournament. Always underestimated, they made it to quarterfinals twice and won  bronze once in France.

The Croatian side can boast the most enthusiastic fans. International sanctions caused after fan clashes, flares and racist behaviour are not new for Croatia.

UEFA  fined the Croatian Football Federation 80,000 euros ($100,000, 64,500 pounds) after its supporters racially abused Italy’s Mario Balotelli.

The case against Croatia was the first for racism in Euro 2012.Croatia coach Slaven Bilic condemned those responsible and called for them to be banned from football.Croatia had previously been fined 25,000 euros after fans lit flares and let off smoke bombs during their opening match against the Republic of Ireland, also in Poznan, on June 10.

In the Balkan nation’s final match against Spain on Monday night, referee Wolfgang Stark briefly stopped the match after fans hurled a burning flare in the crowd and smoke billowed across the pitch

Statistics against:


Italy’s only win against Croatia took place back in 1942. Croatia is one of the few teams in the world having a positive balance against Italians. Their most famous victory is the 2002 World Cup Group G 2-1 win over the Azzuri, who were led by Giovanni Trapattoni, currently working with the Irish team. Worth to mention that Italy had two clear goals disallowed in that match.The two teams drew 1-1 in Poznan this year.


Spain met Croatia for the first time ever in a major tournament at EURO 2012.The Balkans were denied two possible penalties in their 1-0 defeat to Spain. The first came when Sergio Ramos made a studs-up challenge on Mario Mandzukic in the first half. Then, in the dying seconds, Sergio Busquets got away with a foul on Vedran Corluka. Croatia were trailing 1-0 at the time, following Jesús Navas’s 88th-minute goal.


A dramatic match at Maksimir in Zagreb ended with a 91st minute Davor Suker goal and gave the Croatians a victory of 1-0 over The Boys in Green. This, however, was not enough for them to qualify for Euro 2000. Ireland did not qualify either, as they could not win this right over Turkey in play-offs.

Mario Mandzukic netted a brace in Croatia’s 3-1 win over Ireland in their opening game of Euro 2012.


A run of three clean sheets in their first four qualifiers, including two convincing 3-0 victories, started their campaign in style, before being quickly halted by a potentially morale-sapping loss to Georgia. However, normal service was resumed, as they proceeded to win their next three on the bounce, before a ruthless execution of Turkey in the play-offs to seal their place.

Ranked number 8 in the world, they struggled in both of their matches against a resilient Greek outfit, earning just a solitary point from their two fixtures against Fernando Santos’ men. It could be argued that their better performances were against lesser opposition, so it remains to be seen how they match up against Europe’s finest in the finals.

1 Greece (Q) 10 7 3 0 9 24
2 Croatia (Q) 10 7 1 2 11 22
3 Israel 10 5 1 4 2 16
4 Latvia 10 3 2 5 -3 11
5 Georgia 10 2 4 4 -2 10
6  Malta 10 0 1 9 -17 1


4 – Niko Kranjcar
3 – Eduardo da Silva
2- Nikola Kalinic,Mario Mandzukic
1 – Milan Badelj,Dejan Lovren,Luka Modric,Ivica Olic,Mladen Petric,Darijo Srna,Ognjen Vukojevic


Runners-up (part of Yugoslavia)
Did not qualify (part of Yugoslavia)
Did not qualify (part of Yugoslavia)
Disqualified (part of Yugoslavia)
Runners-up (part of Yugoslavia) 1996
Did not qualify (part of Yugoslavia)
Did not qualify
Fourth place (part of Yugoslavia)
Group stage
Did not qualify (part of Yugoslavia)
Group stage (part of Yugoslavia)
Qualified as play-off winners


3-Mario Mandzukic

1- Nikica Jelavic

THE BOSS | Slaven Bilic

Bilić (43) is fluent in German, Italian, and English, while he also holds a degree in law. As a big fan of rock music, he plays rhythm guitar with his favoured red Gibson Explorer and is a member of Rawbau, a Croatian rock group.In 2008, the band recorded a song for Croatia’s performance at Euro 2008 called “Vatreno Ludilo” (“Fiery Madness”), which soon became a #1 hit.

Departing Croatia boss Slaven Bilic admitted he was surprised by his team’s group-stage exit from Euro 2012.Bilic, who has agreed to take over at Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow after the tournament, saw his reign cut short by a 1-0 defeat against Spain.Since replacing Zlatko Kranjcar in 2006, the former West Ham and Everton defender performed very well in the Croatian hotseat. He slowly but surely changed the dynamics of the entire set-up, blooding in youth as soon as his first few games in charge of the Vatreni, and his fresh approach saw him rapidly become a fans’ favourite at the helm.One of his first actions in charge of the squad for Slaven Bilić was the promotion of three players from the U-21 squad (Eduardo da Silva, Luka Modrić, and Vedran Ćorluka) who would all eventually enjoy impressive success and make transfers to the Barclays Premier League. And despite the  failure to reach the World Cup two years ago, he oversaw Croatia’s successful qualifying campaign for Euro 2008, which saw them denied a place in the last four via a penalty shootout against Turkey, who Bilic ironically defeated in the play-offs.

The team’s first official game under Bilić was the 2–0 friendly win in Livorno against Italy, while Bilić’s first competitive game was the 0–0 draw in Moscow against Russia in the opener for their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

In the Euro 2008 qualifiers, he led Croatia to a very successful campaign in a group consisting of England, Russia, Israel, Macedonia, Estonia, and Andorra. Bilić managed to lead Croatia to a first place finish in Group E, most notably masterminding home and away victories against England.It became England’s first ever loss at the new Wembley Stadium. Croatia also managed to equal their highest ever win record as they beat Andorra 7–0.

The following is the list of players announced by Bilic for Euro 2012. Dejan Lovren, Ivica Olić and Ivo Iličević withdrew due to injuries.On 4 June 2012, Ivica Olić  was replaced by Nikola Kalinić.

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), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Šime Vrsaljko (Dinamo Zagreb).

Forwards: Nikola Kalinić (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk).



Prva HNL: winner 2001Croatian Cup: winner 2000, 2003
Ukrainian Premier League: winner 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011

Ukrainian Cup: winner 2004, 2008, 2011Ukrainian Super Cup:winner 2005, 2008, 2010
UEFA Cup: winner 2009
Heart of Hajduk Award: 2003
Best Ukrainian Premier League player according to sport journalists: 2008/09, 2009/10
Included in the 2010–11 UEFA Champions League Team of the Season

The 30-year-old has skippered his side since the aftermath of Euro 2008, following the retirement of previous incumbent Niko Kovac, and he has matured into one of Croatia’s most important figures, with his experience proving invaluable to the younger heads in the squad; his emotional breakdown after their Euro 2008 heartbreak only paid further testament.Despite starting out as primarily a right-sided midfielder, he has found his spiritual home at right-back for the national team, and subsequently has taken up the same role at club level for Shakhtar Donetsk, while his form has promptly forced Vedran Corluka out of his comfort zone to be redeployed at left-back.An impressive all-rounder, Srna is adept defensively, where his workrate and leadership qualities have shone at the back, but it is his attacking instincts that continue to garner praise. His crossing ability is an extremely effective tool for Croatia, as a number of goals have been assisted in some capacity thanks to his right foot, which is undoubtedly one of the best around.

Croatia skipper Darijo Srna competed in his third UEFA European Championship finals this year. A stalwart at  Shakhtar Donetsk, where he is also the club captain, the right wing-back’s accurate crosses and free-kicks are every bit as important to both club and country as his inspirational leadership.

Born in Metkovićto a Bosniak father and a Croatian mother , Srna emerged as a high-profile teenager at Hajduk, winning the 2001 Croatian championship and the 2003 Croatian Cup.He earned his first senior call-up for Croatia in November 2002.He appeared only as a substitute at UEFA EURO 2004 but subsequently became a key man for his country as a right midfielder/wing-back, scoring a trademark free-kick against Australia at the 2006 FIFA World Cup (after missing a penalty in the previous group game against Japan).

He left Hajduk in July 2003, with team-mate Stipe Pletikosa, for ambitious Shakhtar and claimed a domestic cup win in his debut season followed by back-to-back Ukrainian titles.He added the domestic double in 2007/08 plus another Premier League title in 2009/10 − a season in which he was voted player of the year.

He skippered Shakhtar to UEFA Cup glory in 2009 thus becoming the last UEFA Cup-winning captain − and was named man of the match in the final against Werder Bremen, having supplied the assist for Jadson’s extra-time winner.He appeared in all 17 European matches for the Pitmen that season.

He helped Croatia to the EURO 2008 quarter-finals, scoring his 16th international goal in a 2-1 win against Germany in Klagenfurt.He is his country’s second highest goalscorer (19 goals) after Davor Šuker (45 goals) and Eduardo da Silva (23 goals).

The workaholic also led Shakhtar into the UEFA Champions League knockout stage for the first time in 2011.The Pitmen eventually succumbedto Barcelona in the quarter-finals – while two more domestic doubles arrived in 2010/11 and 2011/12.

Croatia captain, Darijo Srna (33) hit out at Wolfgang Stark following his side’s group stage exit from Euro 2012. He accused referees of not respecting the smaller nations.Do you agree with him?



Bosnian First League Player of the Year: 2003
Croatian Football Hope of the Year: 2004
Croatian First League Player of the Year: 2007
UEFA Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament: 2008
Tottenham Hotspur Football Club ‘Player Of The Season’: 2010–11
Croatian First League: winner 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08
Croatian Cup: winner 2007, 2008
Croatian Super Cup: winner 2006

Modric put up a gallant effort in Gdansk but it was World champions Spain who kept alive their hopes of a retaining their European crown with a 1-0 victory.

Luka Modric (26) produced eye-catching performances as Slaven Bilic’s men pushed the Spanish all the way before they were undone three times from time when Cesc Fabregas lifted the ball over a defence pushing up looking for offside and Andreas Iniesta unselfishly squared for Jesus Navas to ensure Vicente Del Bosque’s side topped Group C.

The competition favourites looked set to fall behind when Modric’s superb cross with the outside of his boot picked out the unmarked Ivan Rakitic but he headed a gilt-edged chance straight at Iker Casillas.It’s a delight to see Modric play. Based on his playing style he looks like Johan Cruyff.A left-footed playmaker with a good vision of play and little goal-scoring ability, Modric, like many other Eastern European footballers, has talent. Four years at Tottenham have brought him neither club-level glory nor a career leap.

When the press start comparing you to the likes of Johan Cruyff, Kaka or Andrea Pirlo, you know it is easy to disappoint. That is the case with Croatia’s Luka Modric, a perennial would-be star of European football who has yet to fulfil expectations. Today, Modric is Croatia’s unrivalled star. Bilic said he wanted Modric to be the best player of EURO 2008. He had just signed for Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur from Dynamo Zagreb — whom he had led to three Croat championship titles in a row —for close to 26 million euros ($33 million). At the time, similarities in features, movements and the No 14 shirt prompted comparisons with Cruyff.

He signed for Dinamo Zagreb as a youth but played in Bosnia and Herzegovina for Zrinjski and helped provincial outfit Inter Zaprešić finish runners-up in the Croatian top flight before rejoining the club in 2005.

He won the Croatian title in all three of his seasons at Dinamo, including a runaway victory in 2007/08 – and a second successive domestic double − by a 28-point margin.A Croatian youth and Under-21 international, he made his senior debut in a prestigious 3-2 win against Argentina in Basel on 1 March 2006; played twice as a substitute at that year’s FIFA World Cup and scored his maiden goal against Italy in the Azzurri’s first match as world champions.

An ever-present during Croatia’s EURO 2008 qualifying campaign under Slaven Bilić, his contributions for club and country earned him the title of 2007 Croatian league player of the year and a club record transfer to Tottenham prior to the UEFA European Championship finals, where he excelled, earning inclusion in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

He found it hard to adapt to English football, but he became a key player with the arrival of coach Harry Redknapp, who has now left the club. In four seasons, he has played 159 matches, scored 17 goals and provided 56 assists.

Bilic was his mentor, the man who pushed him up the ranks and made him play with Croatia’s Under-21 team in 2004, aged 19. The coach tends to let Modric generate Croatia’s play. The side then press on up the wings with Darijo Srna and Ivan Rakitic and end with Mario Mandzukic. Bilic compared Modric to Pirlo ahead of the game against Italy.

Still only 26, Modric has plenty of time to lead a generation of young footballers. The aim is to follow in the footsteps of a team that, with Bilic in defence and with the likes of Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker, achieved the greatest success of Croatian football: third place in the 1998 World Cup. Watch out for Croatia in Brazil!


SUPER MARIOMario Mandžukić


Croatian champions: winner 2007–08, 2008–09, 2009–10
Croatian Cup: winner 2008, 2009
Prva HNL top goalscorer: 2008–09
Prva HNL best player: 2008–09


Given the form shown by Croatian international Nikica Jelavic since his move to Goodison Park from Rangers it’s not a complete surprise that David Moyes appears to have set his sights on Mario Mandzukic, who has worked well alongside the Toffees forward during Euro 2012.

Mandzukic has scored 20 goals in 60 matches in Germany but was far more prolific at Dinamo Zagreb and Moyes may feel he is cost effective attacking option to play alongside Jelavic.

Has Euro 2012 unearthed a hidden gem? Several weeks ago, the casual football fan would have shaken his head when asked about a 26-year-old striker, Mario Mandzukic.The Wolfsburg star put in a master-class performances, troubling the Ireland and Italian defence all throughout the tournament.He came into Euro 2012 with very low media interest in him, and hardly any transfer speculation. An offer from Spurs for the VfL Wolfsburg target-man never materialised, while no other club was seriously linked with a bid. Most sides in Europe  disagreed with the £8.8 million valuation for the forward.
Mandzukic’s international career got off to a slow start with just two goals in his first 24 caps, but having scored six goals for Croatia in his last seven games, the Wolfsburg star is relishing being his nation’s main man in attack.He scored his first goal for Croatia on only his second appearance – a consolation effort in a 4-1 home defeat by England in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying. It took him another 15 games before he struck for his country again but he came well on the road to EURO 2012, finding the net against Georgia, Latvia and, in the first leg of the play-off, Turkey.

Croatia played two of their 3 games in Poznan and its there that Mario scored all his goals. After those goals,surprise star striker Mario Mandzukic has become Euro 2012′s biggest beneficiary.Mario Mandzukic, who enriched his CV with a brace of headers to down the  Republic of Ireland and a goal against the Italians, has seen his stock raised.

His contract runs out in 2014 and with Wolfsburg  set to listen to offers for Mandzukic this summer as newly side strikers Ivica Olic and Eredivisie topscorer Bas Dost will be ahead of him in the pecking order, and given his form last season, VfL Wolfsburg  will benefit the most as the striker’s stock has risen after his exploits at Poland and Ukraine.

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Vatreni  earned widespread  praise for their tournament performance, and were greeted by a large crowd upon their return. Upon his formal departure, Bilić was also praised for his long-standing service to the national side.

This article was written by Nana Abiri (@NOKA88)



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