When pitted in a Euro 2012 group containing holders Spain, recent world champions Italy and the durable force of the Republic of Ireland, you could be forgiven for playing down Croatia’s chances of advancing to the last eight.
Fortunately, football isn’t as simple as that and Slaven Bilic’s side could be an excellent price at 31/20 to progress to the tournament’s knock-out stages, as they will be encouraged by the state of their opponents.
Spain are the tournament co-favourites (alongside Germany) but they have been rocked by an injury to Carles Puyol, as well as long-standing fitness doubts over chief marksman David Villa, and some of their high-profile players could yet succumb to fatigue after a long domestic season.
Italy, meanwhile, appear to be in transition, as demonstrated by the fact there are five uncapped players in Cesare Prandelli’s 32-man provisional squad, while they will also struggle without the goals and guile of Giuseppe Rossi.
The Irish may have become extremely hard to beat under Giovanni Trapattoni and may be 12 matches unbeaten, but they are incredibly predictable and one-paced.
Consider as well that Croatia have a good pedigree in European Championships, reaching the quarter-finals twice from four attempts.
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The departing Bilic is certainly expecting as much, having claimed recently that a run to the quarter-finals and no further would leave him very disappointed.
“If you told me now ‘you could get to the quarters but get knocked out’, I’d say ‘No, thank you’ because we are preparing to win Euro 2012,” said the former Everton and West Ham defender, who might be interested in our 40/1 odds on Croatia to win Euro 2012 (or maybe not).
But if you fancy them to impress in Poland and Ukraine, it surely makes more sense to punt on Luka Modric, Eduardo, Darijo Srna and company clinching a top-two finish in Group C.
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