5 Players Croatia Must Axe Ahead of Euro 2016 Qualification Challenge
The World Cup is in the knockout stage, but not for Croatia—who are analysing their early exit from the tournament. The feeling in the nation is one of disappointment, with people trying to figure out the reasons behind another failure.
However, in three months from now, Croatia will enter the Euro 2016 qualifiers with the same ambition as always: to qualify and be competitive.
Even though Niko Kovac has been criticised for his team selections and tactical experiments, it is clear that he'll be the one to lead this team in the next campaign.
The question now is what is going to be his next move? Will he stick with the same generation and try to make a step forward with them or decide to build a new team on the foundations from Brazil?
A couple of older players are obviously past their peak, and some of them have already decided to retire from international football.
Here are five players that we believe Croatia should axe to create a more competitive team for France 2016.
Even though Stipe Pletikosa celebrated his 35th birthday in January, not many questioned Niko Kovac's decision to favour him over Monaco's Danijel Subasic.
However, things have drastically changed following the World Cup.
Pletikosa was close to saving Neymar's penalty in the opening match. That failing to save a penalty was his highlight shows what a bad tournament the 'keeper had.
Slow reactions, poor judgment and little movement meant that he was all of a sudden highlighted as one of the weak links in this Croatia team. What's more, ESPN decided to include him in their Worst XI of the group stage.
FC Rostov's keeper has played 114 times for Croatia and deserved a better farewell, but he is 35 and there is no way he will improve.
Kovac has a good replacement in Subasic, the 29-year-old Monaco 'keeper has a mere six caps so far and deserves a chance.
Dynamo Kiev's holding midfielder was actually the first player from the Croatia squad to announce his retirement from international football. The fact that his emotional open letter to the public saw him thank everyone but Niko Kovac says a lot.
Kovac was often criticised in this World Cup for his experiments in the midfield, where he failed to use a proper defensive midfielder and improvised with Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and young Marcelo Brozovic.
However, Vukojevic, who was the only natural holding midfielder, watched the whole tournament from the bench.
Obviously, he was not in Kovac's plans and realised that. Since the boss will stay on for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, it was the only logical thing for Vukojevic to step aside and leave room for someone else.
He could give more to this team, but it would be impossible under Kovac. His decision is for the good of the team.
Born in Brazil, Eduardo da Silva took Croatian citizenship in 2002, when he was only 19, and became a sort of iconic figure in Croatian football.
While at Arsenal, he was considered to be a top Croatian striker, and since his debut in 2004 he has collected 64 caps for the national team.
However, the Shakhtar Donetsk attacker, who is best remembered for a brutal injury when his leg was broken by a Martin Taylor tackle in 2008, has been in a similar situation to Vukojevic since Kovac's appointment.
In the World Cup he played only 21 minutes of the Cameroon match, and it was obvious that he was not Kovac's first choice.
Even though he is 31 and could easily play a significant role in the qualifiers, if Kovac wants to create a new, young Croatia, Eduardo is surplus and should probably be axed. There is the chance he will call time on his international career.
Once again Wolfsburg's forward proved that he is one of the best players Croatia has ever had. Even though Ivica Olic celebrates his 35th birthday in September, his performances in Brazil were almost flawless.
With a fighting spirit and a sort of inexhaustibility, Olic earned himself iconic status among Croatian fans, and not many would be happy with his decision—or Kovac's—to retire from international football.
However, the fact is that when Euro 2016 comes around, Olic will be pushing 37 and it would crazy to expect him to play at the same level as he did in Brazil.
He has been playing for the national team for the past 12 years and it would probably be wise for him to retire while he is still—relatively speaking—on top.
This is one of the biggest dilemmas. Is it really the time? Can Croatia cope without their captain? Darijo Srna is the personification for this generation of the Croatian national team; he is the skipper, the true leader of this team, and if he decides to retire—or if Kovac axes him—it would be a blow for the team.
Srna made his debut for the Vatreni back in 2002 and has since collected 116 caps, including appearances in two World Cups and three European Championships.
However, Srna's performances in Brazil proved that his career is coming closer to the dusk, and that he should seriously consider vacating his post for someone else.
Srna is 32, and if Croatia want to build a young and fresh team for France 2016, they'll need to do it with a new captain and leader, and Srna should be aware of that.