Pop on your Malkovich masks, we're taking a tour through Croatia. (Yep, the star of that jewel thief movie is of Croatian descent.)
World Cup experience: Third trip. Third place in 1998. Only founded its FA in 1992 after the breakup up Yugoslavia.
Group: Group F -- Brasil, Australia, Japan
Odds: 7:1, win group; 81:1 win Cup.
World Rank: 20.
How qualified: Won European Group 8, edging out Sweden. In fact the Croats went 7-0-3 in qualifying.
Nickname: Vatreni -- Which apparently means "Fiery." Yay!
Key Players: Dado Prso (F, Rangers); Ivan Klasnic (F, Werner Bremen); Darijo Srna (MF, Shakhtar Donetsk); Niko Kranj?ar (MF, Hajduk Split)
Choice honey: Severina Vuckovic. (Pop star/Croatian Paris Hilton with a sex tape scandal that tarnished her wholesome image. Find it yourself this is a family page.) Also, we could have chosen Vanna White, who's of Croat descent, but well, she's too old.
Icon: Davor Suker. Besides having an ultimately awesome name, Suker was the Golden Boot winner at France 98.
Tedious miscellania: For all the good will Croatia has built up, it's all out the door since Bill Belichick traces his ancestry through the crescent shaped republic. Double that sentiment since Nick Saban can say the same. (Hey, I'm a Jets fan, alright.) ... Former Croat legend Zvonimir Boban earned international acclaim for stopping the police from beating a young fan following a riot between a Dinamo Zagreb/Red Star Belgrade match (Oh, those wacky Serbs.). ... Croatia doesn't have a country motto, which is sad. ... In Croatian, the country is -- "Hrvatska". .. Suffice to say, bring your bulletproof vests should Croatia somehow find a way to play Serbia in the tournament. ... Croatia lays claim to inventing the necktie (no word on the piano-key variety). ... Tennis star Goran Ivaniševi? is a Croatian, and somehow a big big supporter of English side West Bromwich Albion, aka "The Baggies." ... After his tennis career, Goran participated in a reality TV show called The Exchange Office, where he swapped jobs with road sweeper Alojz Pucek and swept streets in Zagreb. Reportedly, eyewitnesses who recognized Goran were utterly shocked, and one even passed out. ... Word on the street is Croatia has some nice national parks and fine coastline on the Adriatic Sea. ... June 25th is a HUGE day in Croatia, it's "Statehood Day." ...
General notes: First and foremost, the Croats have a player named Jerko Leko. ... They flopped at Euro 2004 with playing Bremen hitman Klasnic. New coach Zlatko Kranj?ar likely won't make that mistake. ... A pretty good mix of stars and role players who seem to like playing with each other. Also good mix between young and old. ... One of the few teams in Fifa 2006 online that can consistently defeat Brasil. Although that seems doubtful when they meet June 13th in Berlin.
Worth watching: Yes. And if you can bored, you can Tivo the game and pause it and play a game of chess or checkers on their jerseys.
Will they win a game?: Yes. Likely aggregate 5-0 vs. Japan and Australia.
Suppe Sez: I can't rip on Croatia too much. Drazen Petrovic (that Fleer basketball card where he's being guarded by Reggie Lewis still gives me the chillies) is a Croat and without him, the US and A wouldn't have Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovich, Hedo Turkoglu, Pau Gasol, Andrei Kirilenko, Vlad Radmanovic or Manu plying their trades in the NBA. Or Zarko, Darko or Skita. And that would be a shame. A damn, crying shame. Plus, Croatia's crest kicks ass.
Bottom line: This guys have a chance to do some damage and that's just with their body odor. ZIIIIIIIIIIIING
Be sure to Czech out our next preview.