Zagreb, May 22 (IANS) Croatian football team captain Darijo Srna reckons that the current team is the best the country has ever possessed but feels that it will have to prove its mettle by performance in the Euro 2016 starting on June 10.
“This is the best Croatian team in history,” Xinhua news agency quoted the 34-year-old as saying in the interview published in Croatian sports daily Sportske novosti on Saturday.
“I don’t want to underestimate other generations but if you look at the quality of this team, names of the clubs that these players are playing for and how important roles they have, I am convinced that no other Croatian manager had a better situation on paper,” the Shakhtar Donetsk defender added.
“Of course, now we have to prove that on the field,” said the oldest player of this generation who has already announced that the tournament in France will be his last with the national team.
From Srna to Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Ante Coric there is a 15 years age difference and, even though the captain said that his body still feels fresh and ready for the biggest challenges, he also felt that the time has come to make way for the new generation.
The EURO 2016 will be his sixth big tournament and he will add some caps to an already impressive number of 129 appearances in a beloved red and white checkered shirt.
Srna is not alone in his optimism. He is the voice of the dressing room that other will follow, like 31-year-old central defender Gordon Schildenfeld, who has a vast international experience playing for clubs in five different European countries and has been a member of Croatian team at last two big tournaments, 2012 EURO and 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“We have a fantastic team. We have strong opposition in our group, three teams that want the same things but we have a quality to advance to knockout stage. That’s something we should achieve,” Schildenfeld said at the start of the three-week training camp.
Unlike his captain, Schildenfeld doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the line-up and he will have to fight for it.
“I am used to it. This is not a new situation. Nothing has ever come easy for me. I will give it all I have and hope that this will be enough. I just hope that we will all avoid injuries,” Schildenfeld concluded.
Croatian team will spent first few days of the camp in Zagreb and from Monday they will relocate to Sv. Martin na Muri, a small town in the northern part of Croatia that borders with Slovenia and Hungary.
On May 27 Croatia will play against Moldova in the first of two test matches. For the second part of the camp Croatian team will relocate to northern Croatian coastal province of Istria. This is where Srna, Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic and Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic will join the team.
On June 4 the Croatian team should be complete with Real Madrid duo of Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic joining teammates for the last test match against San Marino in Rijeka. Three days later Croatian footballers will head for their French base in Deauville.
Croatia will start their 2016 Euro campaign in Group D on June 12 against Turkey at Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris. On June 17 they will clash with Czech Republic in Saint Etienne and on June 21 will play against Spain in Bordeaux in the last match in the group phase.
With 16 out of 24 teams reaching the knockout stage and the group of players that national head coach Ante Cacic has to choose from, that seems as a very achievable goal.