Croatia coach Ante Cacic believes his team’s Euro 2016 prospects are defined by far more than his Clasico stars.
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic and his Real Madrid counterpart Luka Modric are at the peak of their powers and provide cause for optimism that Cacic’s men can progress significantly beyond a Group D line-up of Spain, Czech Republic and Turkey.
They begin their campaign against Turkey at Parc des Princes on Sunday and Cacic was keen to point out that his squad’s supporting cast boast ample pedigree.
“We have many players that are playing at [the highest] level – as you said Modric and Rakitic from Barcelona and Real Madrid,” he said at his pre-match news conference.
“[Mario] Mandzukic is playing in Juventus, he won the Champions League with Bayern Munich. We have [Nikola] Kalinic and [Milan] Badelj who are playing in Fiorentina.
“Then we have [Domagoj] Vida, he is a Ukrainian champion; Darijo Srna is captain of Shakhtar [Donetsk] and has played many matches in the Champions League.
“They have the winning mentality. We just have to collect all these individuals qualities. If we can do that we can expect a positive result.”
By contrast, Cacic has taken a road less travelled to the pinnacle of his profession, having earned his keep as a television and radio repairs man in Zagreb for more than a decade.
He was one of the first Croatian coaches to earn a UEFA Pro licence and went about establishing his reputation across a somewhat nomadic career in the dugout.
His appointment to replace Niko Kovac was treated with widespread scepticism in his his homeland but the 62-year-old secured progress to France with wins over Bulgaria and Malta to rescue an often-troubled qualifying campaign.
“Of course I’ve had many important matches in my career but this is something special,” he explained.
“It’s the Euro and I am coach of the national team. When I listen to the anthem you can imagine how I will feel.
“For me, the most important thing is how the team will look tomorrow. I’m sure I can cope with pressures, as I have all my life.
“I went through a path that was not a normal path for a coach. I went through many obstacles and I passed them.
“I am really proud of this team and my job. It was not easy in the qualifiers but this team makes me feel really self confident.
“I think they are going to look really good in this tournament.”
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