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Euro 2016 profile: Croatia could slip under radar thanks to midfield

Croatia

Blazers have midfield options abound, with Modric and Rakitic to marshal their engine room exploits in Group D and beyond at France finals.

We’re profiling all 24 teams that will be in France, so punters will have an expert view as Europe’s compete this summer.

This time we focus on Croatia, appearing in the competition for the fifth consecutive time.

The Blazers now face a tricky Group D comprised of defending champions Spain, Czech Republic and Turkey, with Sky Bet boasting the best odds of 15/8 for the former Yugoslavian state to finish second in their pool.

History at the Euros: In their first Euros as an independent nation, Croatia were knocked out in the quarter-finals of Euro ’96 by eventual winners Germany, with a 2-1 defeat.

During Euro 2008 they won all their group games – including a win over Germany. Croatia were knocked out in the quarter-finals on penalties to Turkey.

In Euro 2016 qualifying, they lost only once, but were docked a point due to their boisterous fans, finishing four behind Italy. Ivan Perisic scored a Group H high six goals during qualifying.

Head coach: After 21 different jobs in management, Ante Cacic was in Zagreb’s Lokomotiva job for a matter of months when appointed national manager. His hiring was not met with popular approval.

Cacic, a former TV and radio repair man, is yet to be beaten as Croatia manager.

His assistant is former Croatia and Hertha Berlin defender Josip Simunic, a man banned by FIFA for 10 international matches for giving a fascist salute. Within a week of the ban expiring, he was hired by the Croatian FA.

Key player: Croatia are blessed with a superb midfield but Real Madrid’s Luka Modric is the true star. One of the best playmakers in the world, his vision and feel for the game is exceptional.

Now 30, his experience of playing in huge games will be vital if the Blazers are to progress. There’s also Marcelo Brozovic, Matteo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic in the engine room.

Modric’s men are a fab top price of 15/8 with bet365 to reach the quarter-finals.

Rising star: Branded ‘the next Messi’, Barcelona-owned Sporting Gijon attacking midfielder Alen Halilovic is a name to remember.

The 19-year-old possesses confidence and swagger along with superb dribbling skills. He also looks to have befitted from playing Croatian men’s football at the age of 16, adding steel to his game.

Wildcard: Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic could be one to watch this summer.

Fans may remember his disappointing spell at Blackburn Rovers, but has excelled since, scoring just one of two Serie A hat-tricks for the Viola, and has eight in 27 caps for his country.

The forward can also play behind the striker, creating chances with clever layoffs and piercing passes.

Confirmed Croatia Euro 2016 fixtures:
All kick-offs are British Summer time (BST)
Sunday, June 12th: Turkey v Croatia (14:00); Parc des Princes, Paris, ITV
Friday, June 17th: Czech Republic v Croatia (17:00); Nouveau Stade de Bordeux, Bordeaux, BBC
Tuesday, June 21st: Croatia v Spain (20:00); Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne, ITV

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