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EURO 2012 Preview: Croatia has high ambitions

Luka Modric could be the most coveted star in Europe this offseason, and the Croatia midfielder will have a chance to add to his status in Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

The 26-year-old, who plays with English side Tottenham, would have no shortage of suitors should he become available on the transfer market, with Chelsea and both Manchester clubs, City and United, among those reportedly interested.

Although Modric produced just four goals and four assists - the latter being a huge disappointment - he was the engine for Tottenham, which ended fourth last season in the English Premier League.

The distractions are not important for Modric right now, as Croatia enters its Euro campaign with high hopes despite being in Group C along with Italy, Spain and Ireland.

And coach Slaven Bilic needs Modric focused on the Euros as he admitted he has not lowered the bar as far as his expectations go. Four years ago, Bilic admitted he coveted the title and led Croatia to the quarterfinals.

"We showed in 2008 that we know how to play and we will be ready again," Bilic said.

"We went to Austria (and Switzerland) to win EURO and we are going (to Poland and Ukraine) with the same ambitions now."

Although Bilic admitted that this current club, which resembles the 2008 side, may not be "better than in 2008, ... I can say that I think I am better."

Bilic, who played for Croatia when it finished third in the 1998 World Cup, was a very young coach at the last Euros, but will try to turn more experience into a lot more success.

Croatia lost in the quarterfinals in a shootout to Turkey, but earned a little revenge for that loss in the playoff round of qualifying with a 3-0 aggregate win to return to the Euro finals.

With the majority of the veteran players back from both the 2006 World Cup and Euros, including captain Darijo Srna, Bilic is right that this team may not be a lot better.

But Modric, for one, certainly is better.

With midfielder Mario Mandzukic, who will make his first appearance in a major tournament, Modric will form a dynamic duo that is just as capable of setting up goals as it is at scoring them.

But ideally, they will just be pulling the strings.

Eduardo, who has 22 goals in less than 50 international games, Nikica Jelavic, Niko Kranjcar and Ivica Olic - one of two players with experience dating back to the 2002 World Cup - are among the goal scorers who should benefit and will just need to find their finishing touch this summer.

With Vedran Corluka and Josip Simunic in defense and '02 World Cup veteran Stipe Pletikosa an option in goal, along with Vedran Runje - who both played in Euro 2008 - there is talent and experience all over the pitch.

Croatia should not surprise anyone and its experience should come in handy for matches against Italy and Spain and give Bilic a chance to extend his stint as coach beyond the group stage.

OUTLOOK

Croatia does not rank among the predicted top-two finishers in Group C as both Italy and Spain have a better pedigree. But as the country proved in Euro '08, when it reached the quarterfinals, it can't be counted out. Croatia features a talented and experienced group and - even against Euro 2008 winner and World Cup 2010 champion Spain - should not be vastly outclassed. But, it will need a win against Italy or Spain, so even advancing seems unlikely this year.