In recent European Championships Croatia have underachieved, going out in the quarter-finals in 2008 in dramatic circumstances when they really ought to have made it further, before they were edged out of a difficult group in 2012.
This time around their squad is said to be even stronger, and the performance which led to victory in their opening match against Turkey could end up being the start of something that could match the nation’s greatest footballing success, which was also in France when they finished third in the 1998 World Cup.
The only disappointing aspect of Sunday’s win was the fact they could only manage the one goal, and a spectacular Luka Modric volley at that. Marcelo Brozovic could not make the most of the many opportunities he had, while Ivan Perisic could only head against the crossbar when well placed.
But on the whole, if they can maintain those performance levels, Croatia should be a team to look out for in the competition, and their latest outing sees them take on the Czech Republic, who were within minutes of holding reigning champions Spain to a goalless draw.
It was a game where Pavel Vrba’s side defended manfully for long periods, but one moment of quality saw them come away with nothing, so this one calls for a more attack-minded approach. With a defence that does readily keep clean sheets, it might be unwise to commit too many players forward, but Czech Republic will feel that they must collect something from this one in order to aid their hopes of progressing.
The same goes for Turkey, who were something of a disappointment in that first match at the Parc des Princes. Chances were rare as the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu and Salcuk Inan came at distant second best to Croatia in the midfield battle.
The reality of facing Spain is that they are likely to dominate possession for long periods and attempt to wear the opposition down, so Turkey must show discipline and make use of the promise they have in their ranks. Youngster Emre Mor seemed to inspire his teammates upon being introduced from the bench against Croatia, so may be in line for a high-profile start.
It looked set to be a frustrating afternoon for Spain, but fortunately they still have Andres Iniesta, and he produced the perfect cross for Gerard Pique to break the Czech Republic’s resistance. This encounter is likely to take on a similar pattern, with Turkey set to commit a number of men behind the ball and look to grab something on the break.
So much is expected of Spain, but this is now a side that does not have the depth of quality that it did during their period of world dominance. Alvaro Morata is one of very few strikers in the squad, so he must produce a better showing than he did non Monday. If he is able to do so and Spain reach something close to their incisive best, they should have too much for Turkey and thus book their place in the last 16.