Croatia overcame a dramatic managerial change last September to book their slot at Euro 2016.
With just two qualifying games remaining, Ante Cacic replaced Niko Kovac in the dugout following a disappointing return of one point from the double header with Azerbaijan and Norway.
It was not a change universally welcomed at the time but Cacic ensured Croatia won their final two games against Bulgaria and Malta meaning Norway’s defeat to Italy in October spared Croatia from the playoffs.
The defeat to Norway in Oslo was the sole reverse of the campaign for Croatia, but it was enough to cost Kovac his job nonetheless.
Previously, his side had drawn home and away against the Italians and enjoyed a thumping 5-1 home success against the Norwegians in Zagreb.
Despite the managerial upheaval they endured, Croatia were consistent throughout qualifying. They scored more and conceded fewer goals than all of their group rivals and their reputation as a slick, intelligent outfit should ensure their Group D opponents are in for a tough test in France.
Pain Of Spain
Four years ago, Croatia were handed a tough group that included Italy and Spain. Jesus Navas struck in the 88th minute of the final group game to send eventual winners Spain through and leave Croatia in third spot.
That late strike condemned Croatia to their only defeat of the tournament, so Cacic and his men will be eager for some payback in France.
That was the only competitive meeting between the teams to date and the Spanish once more will provide the opposition in the concluding group game in Bordeaux on June 21.
Ahead of that, in Paris on June 12, Croatia begin against Turkey – a team against whom they have never lost in competitive action.
It will be new ground in Saint-Etienne on June 17 when Croatia meet the Czech Republic for the first time competitively.
Cacic has enough quality in his ranks to ensure Croatia will fancy themselves to come out of what looks a more evenly balanced group assignment in France compared with four years ago.
It is in the middle third where this side should be strongest. Luka Modric is widely regarded as one of the best technicians in the European game and alongside him, his promising Real Madrid teammate Mateo Kovacic is growing in stature all the time.
The Inter Milan duo of Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic hit the net eight times between them during qualifying.
Arguably the jewel in the crown is Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. At 27, Rakitic is a key component in midfield for a wonderfully creative club team and his ability to make forward runs shouldn’t be discounted despite scoring only one goal in qualifying.
Skipper Darijo Srna is a rock at the back and a regular on the scoresheet when he drives forward on the right.
Domagoj Vida of Dynamo Kiev and ex-Spurs man Vedran Corluka should feature in the back four while Danijel Subasic is the man between the sticks.
Up front, the experienced Mario Mandzukic is now well complemented by Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric and Ivica Olic of Hamburg.
Croatia undoubtedly have the talent to be a real factor in Group D this summer and perhaps well beyond if their midfield schemers are on form.
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Ivan Vargic (Rijeka)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Napoli), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic (both Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marko Rog, Ante Coric (both Dinamo Zagreb)
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), Marko Pjaca, Duje Cop (both Dinamo Zagreb), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim)