Divides at home could prove a stumbling block for Croatia at Euros
Croatia will take on Spain, the Czech Republic and Turkey in Group D. Here's a look at their squad and how they will fare at Euro 2016.
At a glance
There is no consensus on expectations for Croatia. The squad has more than enough individual quality to make the round of 16 at the very least, but doubts over manager's credentials and his ability to keep the dressing room in check remain a big stumbling block.
The general public is entrenched in two opposing camps: One preaches a dogmatic view that the team deserves unconditional backing, while the other is a refuge for a growing mass of disenchanted former fans.
Those others rebel against what they see as widespread corruption and clientelism in domestic football reflecting on key decisions regarding national team, including the appointment of manager Ante Cacic despite his lack of reputation and charisma. They resent the players for not speaking up against it, while some are also put off by the growing right-wing political extremism among the supporters, which tainted the qualifying campaign and got Croatia multiple crowd bans.
The divide extends to -- and is being fuelled by -- the media. Some outlets are trying to ignore the problems and focus on the positives while others repeatedly insist on highlighting the issues. Neither side is really talking about what would constitute success for Croatia at the tournament in terms of a result.
The overall support is at an all-time low.
Luka Modric is the most obvious of answers, but it's impossible to look past him for a key role. Even in a side bulging with classy midfielders like Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic, it's the mini-maestro who pulls all the strings and his immense importance for the team's on-pitch cohesion cannot be overestimated.
Unfortunately, he could be a bit worn out after a very long (but eventually triumphant) season with Real Madrid. Others might make headlines if he remains on his usual level -- but if he doesn't, then Croatia might not have a star man at all.
Plenty -- from all the negative atmosphere and poisoned darts aimed in the team's direction, to the absence of a coherent, tried and tested strategy.
The team is over-reliant on Modric and has considerable difficulties in defensive transition, particularly on the flanks. There is no true holding midfielder and Rakitic's role has never been fully defined.
Mario Mandzukic is a ticking time-bomb up front, frustrated with his largely physical, hard-working style not fitting that well with the mostly technical rest of the team. He's never too far away from being sent off.
Veteran captain Darijo Srna lost his stamina and presents a defensive liability, while his attacking contribution is not what it used to be, either.
It's probably also true that Cacic doesn't command much respect or authority among the players. His man-management skills appear quite rigid -- unlike his tactics, which are known to be very shifty and swerving, even wildly experimental at times.
Group stage exit.
It may sound like a bold and depreciating statement, but there are just too many issues to wrestle with and more than a few things seem to be out of place. If the Vatreni lose their opening game to Turkey -- and that's by no means unimaginable -- their fragile team spirit and faith in the manager's guidance could be gone out of the window. Presuming there is any to begin with.
Aleksandar Holiga is an independent football writer based in Zagreb, Croatia. Follow him on Twitter @AlexHoliga