So it's finally happening; this is Slaven Bilic's swansong - leaving for Lokomotiv Moscow after the tournament. I know the honeymoon effect has worn off quite a bit and his relationship with the Croatian media has deteriorated significantly, but he'll be sorely missed and he took the program to heights it hasn't seen in a generation. Unfortunately, I don't think this team is as strong as the '08 edition, but the players love him and I'm sure they'd like him to leave with a bang and not a whimper.
The backline worries me a ton. Dejan Lovren's injury is a killer and it makes this backline look pretty ****ing terrible, imo. Joey Simunic is like 80 years old now, Corluka is coming off a pretty lacklustre season and there's a real possibility Domagoj Vida starts, he's a Prva Liga player ffs. Yuck.
Midfield runs through two guys - Modric and Srna. I know Bilic likes to play Modric much deeper than he does for Spurs but I really think Croatia's best attacking play happens when he's leading the charge. He needs to get upfield and get involved offensively, because goals have been hard to come by over the last few years with this core. And I don't know how much Srna has left in the tank but he's deadly with the set pieces and crosses and hopefully he'll be able to give good service to whomever Bilic decides to play up front.
Speaking of which, I think Nikica Jelavic has to start; his form with Everton is simply too good to ignore. Jelavic and Mandzukic are probably the ideal forward pairing but I'm not sure how Bilic plans to use Eduardo and Olic...particularly Eduardo, who looked pretty good over Croatia's last two friendlies. Going 4-4-1-1 with Mandzukic behind Olic will be the safe play but I hope that's not what they settle for.
There'll be some tough decisions in just about every part of the park, but I'm hopeful Bilic figures out a lineup that he's confident with and the team's able to come through for him in his final tournament.
Corluka - Simunic - Schildenfeld - Pranjic
Srna - Modric - Rakitic - Kranjcar
Mandzukic - Jelavic
I think guys like Perisic and Ilicevic could be dangerous super subs when needed. Pranjic gets the nod for me at LB because he's been there before and he'll be a bit less of a bombscare as a veteran presence than Vida or Strinic. Modric is the key - everything runs through him and we go as he goes.
Croatia-Italy on June 14th, my birthday. Pretty sure that game decides 2nd place in the group. Or, we completely **** the bed against the Irish on the 10th and we'll be out before the week is over. I could see this team being a huge bust, I could see us pulling off a shocker in the quarterfinals. Lots could happen.
VATRENI! JA TE VOLIM! HRVATSKA!!