Elvir Islamović, embedded in the Croatia camp through the tournament, offers five reasons why this team might be on course to win UEFA EURO 2016.
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The best team since 1998
Every Croatia team since the one which finished third at the 1998 FIFA World Cup has been playing in the shadow of the likes of Davor Šuker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinečki. None have come close ... until now. It was in Bordeaux that Croatia beat Romania in the round of 16 in 1998 and on Tuesday the current crop were even better in the same city.
"I would be so happy to see these guys break my records and be even better than we were then," said Croatian Football Federation (HNS) president Davor Šuker, a star of that 1990s generation. After what we saw in Bordeaux there is every reason to believe that might just be possible.
They are a real team
Darijo Srna is the captain and does a great job of motivating the team, while Luka Modrić is the talisman on the pitch. However, the Real Madrid midfielder did not feature against Spain and the much-changed starting line-up functioned superbly – proof of the quality throughout this squad. I do not remember the last time I saw such spirit in the Croatia camp. "The players told me the atmosphere is better than ever," said coach Ante Čačić.
Tragedies have made them stronger
Occasions which should have been for celebrating have turned into times for mourning. Srna's father has died while he has been in France, Čačić has left for a funeral and goalkeeping coach Marijan Mrmić has also lost his father. The squad, though, have come together in such moments. Indeed Srna's father's last wish was for his son to give his all for Croatia at this tournament prior to international retirement.
- Croatia 2-1 Spain: report and analysis from Bordeaux
- Del Bosque: "The players were sat in silence"
- All the action as it happened
They are fearless
"We played against the best team in the world and we didn't show any sign of fear," said Čačić. How right he was. I thought the coach might have settled for second spot in the group when I saw the youthful team he had picked. They had their work cut out even more when they went behind early on. They bounced back incredibly, though, showing absolutely no sign of stage fright.
Čačić is relatively unknown but believe me he could be a key force in taking this team into the latter stages of the tournament. Indeed he is something I've not witnessed before – he is not only a coach but also a mentor, a psychologist and a friend to the players. On top of all that he still finds time to be analytical and studious. He is always ready to talk, to discuss and debate. He is just what this team needs.