Euro 2012: Why You Shouldn't Sleep on Croatia to Make a Run

Alex Hall@@AlexKHallCorrespondent IIIJune 10, 2012

POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 09: (L-R) Darijo Srna, Nikica Jelavic, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Jurica Buljat of Croatia run during a Croatia training session prior to the UEFA EURO 2012 Group C match against Ireland at the Municipal Stadium Poznan on June 9, 2012 in Wroclaw, Poland. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Group C of Euro 2012 features some of international football's biggest names in Spain and Italy, with the Republic of Ireland playing the role of lovable underdog. Croatia is also a member of Group C however, and the team nobody is talking about is just as deadly as the aforementioned three.

Croatia may not have qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but that disappointment paired with the devastating exit against Turkey in Euro 2008 have motivated this squad.

The team has parted ways with older familiar faces from their previous run in '08 while infusing new, young talent into the roster like Ivan Rakitic.

While the Croatians don't have the lure of the Irish or the world-renowned players like Italy or Spain, they aren't a squad that should be taken likely as Group C play kicks off.

"Croatia has always been able to win big games against the favorites." Darjo Srna told

The team is quietly ranked as the No. 8 team in the world according to FIFA. Although four years is a long time, this squad showed in the last Euro tournament that Croatia can make a deep run if it plays stellar football and a few things fall its way.

Srna and the ever-talented Luka Modric are going to have to lead this team through their moves on the pitch and their words in the locker room. When matching on a talent-level, they are the team's only true answers to the likes of Andres Iniesta and Giorgio Chiellini.

Croatia needs to win the battle for possession in the middle of the field where its strongest players are.

Even when it comes time to play Spain, the Blazers must at least keep the possession percentage close if they hope to knock off the defending Euro and current World Cup champions.

Group C is no walk in the park even for Spain, so it will be especially tough for an underdog like Croatia or Ireland to emerge as the victor or runner-up within the group.

The best way for the Croats to capture one of the top two spots in their group is by defeating Ireland in their first match.

Italy and Spain are going to force Croatian manager Slaven Bilic into a more defensive approach due by the team. If Bilic's squad is able to notch three points in their first match of the tournament, they've put themselves in prime position to move onto the knockout stage.

Even with a victory over the Irish, Croatia likely won't get too much discussion in the postgame shows or articles written about them. That's fine by them, though—the less people who pay attention to the Croats, the more surprising it will be if they are able to upset one or possibly both of the past two World Cup champions.