What are the expectations for the team?
They are a very promising side who are expected to peak for the 2010 World Cup but should be able to make it past the group stage this summer. Even without the injured Eduardo da Silva we have plenty of goal options. Mladen Petric scored seven in the qualifiers, including the winner at Wembley, while Ivan Klasnic showed he can still knock them in after returning from a kidney transplant. Plus Vedran Corluka and Niko Kranjcar have good seasons in the Premier League and it was surprising that no one picked up Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Luka Modric during the January transfer window. Now he’s joining Spurs for a hefty fee, albeit for rather less than the £20m his club wanted at one point.
Are there any players who have appeared in TV commercials?
Commercial activities tend to focus on the whole Vatreni (the On-Fire Ones) rather than individuals. As with previous tournaments, Zagreb brewery Ozujsko is one of the main sponsors. The current campaign features the national squad in their Euro 2008 strip and is presented as “a prayer to the divine shirt”.
Is the coach popular?
In Croatia, Slaven Bilic is a legend, and he’s probably an honorary citizen of Russia, too. He refused to accept anything above the minimum salary when he signed on, saying that it was an honour to coach Croatia. Plus he plays in a rock band, Rawbau, whose Euro 2008 song, Vatreno Ludilo (Flaming Madness), is expected to be a big hit.
Do any of the players have famous girlfriends or wives?
Unsurprisingly several of the players live with models, while Robert Kovac is married to Miss World runner-up Anica Martinovic. Bilic left his wife for TV presenter and ex-model Mirjana Hrga.
Will there be any rehearsed goal celebrations?
Expect to see some kind of T-shirt message for the injured Da Silva, whose ten goals made a crucial contribution in the qualifiers.
Are there any players involved in politics?
This was much more common during the first few years after independence. These days it tends to be players from the diaspora who get involved politically. For instance, it will be interesting to see how Ivan Rakitic is received in Switzerland. He grew up there before causing some dismay among the Swiss by opting to play for Croatia.
Will there be many fans travelling to the tournament?
The numbers will be massive, not least because of the large Croatian communities in both host countries and neighbouring Germany. There will be as many outside the stadium without tickets as there are inside. One classic chant is Jebo te koliko nas ima (Damn how many of us there are here) while another is about how few Croats there are in the world generally: Malo nas je al nas ima/Nije vazno strusit ce mo snove svima (We’re not many, but it doesn’t matter/ We’re capable of destroying anybody’s dreams).
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