One of the artists of his country's golden era, Croatia assistant coach Robert Prosinečki believes the current crop can hit the same heights as their predecessors.
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At his best, the 39-year-old seemed capable of holding on to the ball for as long as he cared, almost begging opponents to challenge him so he could spin beyond them or create space for team-mates. Prosinečki, now assistant coach to his old team-mate Bilić, was a joy to watch and he is rightly remembered as one of the greats of Croatia's golden era from 1994 to 1998. The undoubted highlight of those years was the 3-0 victory against Germany in the 1998 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, and that result is sure to inspire the current crop of players going into the latest eagerly-awaited encounter in Klagenfurt.
"That was one of the most important matches in the history of Croatian football," Prosinečki told euro2008.com. "After we beat them 3-0, we reached the semi-finals and that meant a lot to the whole nation. It was really an important moment for our country. If these guys can beat Germany it will probably have the same effect. We have a great team, we trust in ourselves and we believe we can do it. I'm sure we can beat any team at this championship. It's going to be a tough match like it was in 1998, but we believe we can reach the same level as ten years ago."
With talented players such as Luka Modrić, Niko Kranjčar and Darijo Srna generating the sparks in midfield, it is tempting to look for echoes of that 1998 side. The 2008 incarnation lack a goalscorer with the calibre of Davor Šuker in the absence of Eduardo da Silva, but having seen them close up Prosinečki feels they have other strengths. "It's not easy to compare these two generations," he said. "What I do know is that this one is a real team, with an extraordinary team spirit. The atmosphere here is fantastic. We played a very good qualifying campaign and now we are taking part in an important tournament. It's not easy for me to compare this generation with the one from 1998, but we have the potential to repeat that success."
With fellow coaches Bilić, Aljoša Asanović and Marijan Mrmić also veterans of 1998, the links are strong and Prosinečki feels that together they have done much to move Croatia forward. "Since Slaven and our staff took the control of this team, Croatian football has taken some big steps," he said. "We won our qualifying group and that was a big result. We built a great atmosphere, we all respect each other and work hard – these are the main reasons for this success. The communication between staff and the players is perfect. We can really inspire and motivate them. Our careers were long and successful, so we have lots of experience to share."