Croatia U-21 Team Prepares for First European Championship in 15 Years

Daniela Rogulj

After 15 years, the Croatia U-21 national team will play at the European Championships, which will be held from June 16 to 30 in Italy and San Marino, reports HRT on June 15, 2019. 

The last time the young Croatian side performed was at the 2004 European Championship in Germany, when the team led by Darijo Srna, Niko Kranjčar, and Eduardo da Silva did not advance out of their group. Croatia’s U-21s also participated in Slovakia in 2000 but failed to make it out of their group then, too. The team led by Stipe Pletikosa, Igor Tudor, and Jurica Vranješ finished last in their group.

Furthermore, in their two Euro appearances to date, Croatia’s young team did not win a single game, drew two, and felt defeat four times for a 7-11 ratio. 

This time, however, Croatia is going to the Euro with high ambitions. Ambitions so great they hope to place at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which has not been achieved by any Croatian football generation. A visa for Japan comes with a spot in the semifinal.

“Just making it to the European Championship is a success, but of course, we will not be satisfied with it, we are motivated to do something more. We have the talent, as well as the responsibility, compactness, homogeneity, and discipline for a good result. This generation breathes together, and we are lead by Croatia in Russia last summer,” said Croatia’s U-21 coach Nenad Gračan.

“We are also talking about possibly going to the Olympic Games, which would be a great achievement for all, and especially for me to go there as a coach. If we hope for it, maybe it will happen. That’s the sport,” the Croatian coach said.

The U-21 Euro will feature 12 teams divided into three groups of four teams. Croatia is in Group C together with France, England, and Romania. Group A boasts Italy, Spain, Poland and Belgium, and Group B Germany, Denmark, Serbia, and Austria.

The three group winners and the best second-placed team will secure a spot in the semifinal. However, in the event England makes the semis, they are not eligible for the Olympic tournament, which will result in a playoff between the second and third most successful second-placed teams from the three groups. 

Croatia will play all three group games in San Marino and will open the tournament on June 18 against Romania. Three days later, they’ll play against France, and in the final round on June 24, they’ll meet England.

“Romania kicked out Portugal and is coming with five A-team players. It will not be easy, but we will try to win. I’m sure none of our rivals are too happy to meet us. The tournament is demanding, with games every third day, and there won’t be many opportunities for rest,” Gračan added.

Germany will try to defend the title after defeating Spain 1:0 in the 2017 final. Italy holds the record five titles, while Spain has won four times. 

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