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PARIS – Croatia's team at the European Championship is one of the best that's been sent to a major competition in the country's relatively short history, according to long-time captain Darijo Srna.
The 34-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk defender will be playing at his fourth European tournament alongside a string of Champions League winners, including Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic.
"I think we have one of the best teams in the history of Croatian football," Srna said through a translator ahead of the opening match Sunday against Turkey in Paris. "There is a big euphoria in our country."
Croatia has not managed to go beyond the quarterfinal stage at any of its previous European Championship appearances, though it did reach the semifinals at the 1998 World Cup in France, its first since the country gained independence from the ex-Yugoslavia a quarter of a century ago.
Srna acknowledged that two-time defending champion Spain is the best team in Group D that also includes the Czech Republic. Those teams play on Monday in Toulouse.
"But probably we are favorites for second in the group," Srna said.
Having high quality individuals isn't enough "if you're not focused on the match" as a team, Srna said.
"(On Sunday), we have to be smart," he said, pointing to Romania's impressive effort in losing only to Dimitri Payet's outstanding late goal for France on Friday.
Croatia and Turkey have history.
At Euro 2008, Croatia gave up a late goal to Turkey, when seconds away from a place in the semifinals. The team, which also included midfielders Modric and Rakitic, lost the ensuing penalty shootout.
"It was a really painful defeat," recalled Srna, the only Croatian to score in the shootout as the two midfield stars failed from the spot. "Turkey has shown that you have to play until the very last second. That shows their mentality is very strong."
Croatia coach Ante Cacic added forward Mario Mandzukic — another Champions League winner, with Bayern Munich in 2013 — to the big-game characters he can call on.
"It's a good mix," Cacic said through a translator about his squad. "We just have to connect all this individual quality and focus on the team to be at the top level."