The Croatian side has always had a strong belief in themselves and their ability, most of the time they head onto the field they believe they are the best team out there — even when they’re clearly outmatched the desire to prove the critics wrong prevails, rather than “just being happy to be there." This mindset has served them well in past tournaments, the small Balkan country that only hit the field in 1990 has done quite well for themselves on the International stage.
This year it appeared the team was on the verge of letting the world in on what they already knew, a youthful Croatian side cruising to an impressive result in their Pool. They applied that confidence well, it was not nearly as arrogant as it had been at times in the past, this year it was far more of a motivation than anything. Suddenly they went from the darkhorse favourites to legitimate contenders, and were becoming a big part of the tournament conversation. However reading over pre-game comments on match day, it was clear they were aware of this as well, and once again I began to worry if the team was looking too far ahead yet again:
" 'Turkey got a little bit lucky not to concede goals when they went on an all out offensive,' (Coach Slaven) Bilic said yesterday. 'Our advantage is that we are not naive and that we are a better team than Turkey.' "While it’s essential to have that air of confidence, the Croatian side has proven to let their hubristic nature come back and haunt them in the past. At the 2006 World Cup a strong Croatia tied Japan 0-0 in a game where they played as if they didn’t even need to step foot on the field to win the game, the Croats were the far better team but both the result AND the effort on the field did not represent that. They went on to tie a tough Australian side and missed advancing thanks to a tiebreaker in the group with the aforementioned Aussies.
"The three victories in the group stage give us confidence that we can go through to the semi-finals," Croatia defender Vedran Corluka said. "Turkey is good, but we are better."
This time in Euro 2008 at least they came to play, and even had the opportunities to win, controlling much of the game and definitely getting the chances necessary to put a goal or 2 or 4 in before the final minute of Extra Time. However, when playing a team as depleted as Turkey was, due to injury and suspensions, the Croats who saw themselves contenders for the Championship this year must turn those chances into results.
This is not to take away from the game put in by the Turks, overcoming many odds to claim the upset win in Penalty Kicks, it was a truly inspired effort as the cliché goes. It’s just that it likely should never have gotten to that point in the first place, and one has to wonder if the Croatians — despite a much better effort — still felt this game belonged to them alone, and lacked that sense of urgency necessary when playing in an Euro Cup Quarterfinal match.
It’s far from doom and gloom for this Croatian, lacking their best striker they still put in a tremendous effort and do posses a young team playing prominently in the best leagues around Europe. The Croat team has never really faded from competition they’re becoming staples for International tourneys at this point, and there’s nothing to suggest this reality will cease any time soon. After the game their young coach kept it all in perspective for any potentially distraught members of the community out there:
"This certainly isn't easy to forget, this isn't simply a match you play every week. But of course on the other hand we have to move on, we have a young team,' said Bilic…'The World Cup qualifies are imminent, tomorrow is a new day, the sun will rise, we will probably weep for a few more days, but such is life, things like this have happened before.While this is a tough defeat to swallow for the fans, hopefully the result helps these young players moving forward. As tough as it was to witness, there are positives to take away from their tournament. And even if it will take some time to truly believe those words, I do have that Croatian confidence on my side, and it tells me that everything will be alright!
" 'But my players have strong characters and will come back stronger.' "