Euro 2012 represents Croatia’s last opportunity for glory under Slaven Bilic, with the coach leaving his position for club management after the tournament.
The perennial dark horses are setting their sights on success, after Bilic publicly stated that just reaching the quarter-finals would be a failure.
And with Nikica Jelavić, Darijo Srna and Luka Modrić in tow, the Vatreni could yet again surprise a few people this summer.
With that in mind, here are three antepost punts which could bring decent returns for anyone using the free £25 bet on offer when registering with bwin.
Group C finishing order: 1st Spain, 2nd Croatia, 3rd Italy, 4th Ireland (@ 15/4, free £25 bet wins £118.75)
Bwin’s price for Croatia to reach the quarter-finals is 31/20, but if you are looking for better value, then predicting the order that Group C will finish could be a good option.
Spain are still many people’s favourites to win the tournament, despite losing Messrs Puyol and Villa to injury, and should top the group.
Italy are in disarray off the field following the latest match-fixing scandal to tarnish their domestic league and without the goals of Giuseppe Rossi, they must now rely more heavily on Mario Balotelli, which is rarely a comforting strategy.
Croatia also have an excellent record against the Italians, with two wins and a draw from their three competitive meetings.
Finally, Ireland might be difficult to beat under Giovanni Trapattoni, but they are an aging team boasting a mantra of substance over style that is unlikely to collect many points in Poland.
So with Spain’s brilliance, Italy’s distractions and Ireland’s limitations, the price of 15/4 for Group C to finish 1st Spain, 2nd Croatia, 3rd Italy, 4th Ireland looks extremely inviting.
Croatia to outscore Czech Republic in groups (@ 8/5, free £25 bet wins £65)
This bet may represent something of a risk as the Czechs do face an infinitely easier group than Croatia, but the golden era of Czech football is waning – they have underwhelmed since reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2004.
Their hopes rest largely with Milan Baroš, who has only netted three international goals in three years, and Tomáš Rosický, who has fitness issues ahead of the tournament.
Those two have 41 and 20 international goals respectively, but following them as the squad’s third highest scorer is Michal Kadlec with eight, and he’s a defender.
Croatia’s squad may not be flush with goals either, but with Jelavić, Mario Mandžukić, Eduardo, Niko Kranjčar, Srna and Modrić at their disposal, they do have the better attacking options and they are consistent scorers at European Championships, having scored four times in the group stage of each of their three campaigns.
Jelavić to be top scorer from the Premier League (@ 14/1, free £25 bet wins £375)
This may represent the long-shot of the three, but Wayne Rooney was the only European striker to match Nikica Jelavić’s end to the Premier League season – and he’s suspended for the first two matches at Euro 2012.
Jelavić scored nine times after his first league start for Everton against Tottenham on March 10th and quickly became a record breaker – not only the fastest player to net ten times for the Goodison club since 1912, but also the first player to score in five consecutive away matches since 1977/78.
His club form may not have translated on to the international stage yet, with only two goals from his 19 international caps to date, but in a tournament renowned for few clear chances, Jelavić’s knack of finishing first-time with both feet could yield goals.
And with Ivica Olić recently withdrawing from the tournament with injury, he’s now virtually a guaranteed starter.
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