As team captain and defender Darijo Srna’s emotions run high, Croatia can break through to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals and possibly create some separation from the defending champions as it preps to face Croatia in Group D Friday at Stade Geoffrey-Guichard in Saint-Etienne.
Locking up a solid 1-0 victory over No. 18 ranked Turkey behind midfielder Luka Modric’s deep blast, manager Ante Cacic’s side are on pace to reach the quarters for the first time since their historic fifth-place finish in Austria and Switzerland eight years ago. And there’s little doubt Srna will give his all after his father past away while Croatia defeated the Turks.
The 34-year-old, who owns by far the most team caps with 131, buried his father on Monday but returned to France and is eager to pay his respects with a victory. The match will mark the first time Croatia and Czech Republic have met in a major tournament. Croatia’s a perfect 2-0 in friendly action.
“It is a very difficult moment for me and my family and after talking to them, I decided to return to France,” Srna told reporters Thursday. “It was my father's last wish. He invested everything he had in my career and I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for him.
“I have to be strong and shift my focus on what lies ahead. The travel won't be a factor as I also flew to a friendly against Austria in May 2010 the day after my wedding.”
One more win would also decrease the pressure on Croatia’s pending and final group match against reigning Euro titleholder Spain, as the two sides are knotted atop the group with three points and a goal apiece. They will meet Monday, June 21.
Still, the Czech’s have learned from their 1-0 disappoint against Spain in the tournament opener, one they could have walked away from with at least one point had it not surrendered to Gerard Pique’s header in the closing minutes.
Czech manager Pavel Vrba credited his players’ defensive effort against the Spaniards, especially with Werder Bremen defender Theodor Gebre Selassie holding the wall, and stated there will be adjustments to the attack.
“I have to say that by having [Selassie] in defence we have shown that we had to think a lot about our defence for the match against Spain,” Vrba, who took over in 2014 and seeks the Czech’s second straight trip to the quarters, said.
“This time we will think more about forwards, so there will certainly be some changes. ”
The Czech attack mustered only one shot on goal against Spain, much of which falls on veteran midfielders Tomas Rosicky, who also serves as team captain at age 35, and 34-year-old Jaroslav Plasil. Both will have to find ways to free up forwards Tomas Necid and potentially David Lafata.
Prediction: Croatia over Czech Republic, 2-0
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN, ESPN Deportes (USA), CT Sport (Czech Republic), HRT 2 (Croatia)
Live Stream: ESPN3