Whenever a major tournament arises, there are several players taking part in their final tournament. A superstar such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be looking to make his mark in a difficult group. A country hero like Eiour Guojohnsen has been playing for Iceland since 1996. After twenty years of striving to play in a major tournament, this experience will be satisfying for the 37-year-old striker. Robbie Keane is another big name that will likely be playing in his last major tournament. These are players trying to defeat the odds of their current or inevitable decline.
In 2012, most Croatians mourned the loss of Slaven Bilic following the European Championship. His ability to get the most out of players on most occasions and overall charisma were greatly appreciated. It was a sad farewell for the current West Ham manager. Now headed into Euro 2016, Darijo Srna will be playing in his final tournament. The eight-year captain has been a staple on the right side for Croatia.
Although he isn’t as beloved as Bilic, there are plenty of memorable moments for Srna during his international career. Unfortunately, a combination of poor play during qualifiers, silly antics, and mediocre set pieces outweigh the fullback’s biggest contributions. His career started to decline after replacing Niko Kovac as captain. During the Euro 2012 qualifying stage, Srna came under fire for not showing passion or leadership qualities as captain. Instead, the once-appreciated player was seen rolling on the ground more often than communicating with his teammates.
What can be attributed to Srna’s career is the ability to make an impact in big games. This started during the 2006 World Cup qualifying stage. Despite undergoing a transitional phase, Croatia won seven and drew three out of ten games under Zlatko Kranjcar. Srna played a vital role by scoring five goals in nine games. That included two goals in two close wins against Sweden, which secured them automatic qualification. One of those goals consisted of a blistering free kick in Sweden. His excellence from set pieces continued into the 2006 World Cup.
Srna scores the game-winner against Sweden
After missing a penalty against Japan, it only took three minutes for Srna to make up for the disappointing mistake against Australia. A stunning 30-yard free kick finally injected energy into the team following two goalless games. Although Croatia was knocked out of the tournament by Australia, Srna provided the necessary world-class moment on a squad limited of goal scorers and creative midfielders.
Srna’s goal on the grandest stage of them all.
The golden generation arrived at the qualifying stage of Euro 2008. It didn’t prevent Srna from taking set pieces and being apart of a newly founded creative midfield. Bilic’s switch to a 4-5-1 formation against Germany proved to be crucial following a lackluster win over Austria. This allowed Srna more freedom on the right side, along with giving 20-year-old Ivan Rakitic an opportunity in the starting lineup. An instinctive run by Srna and excellent cross by Danijel Pranjic sparked the biggest win during Bilic’s tenure. By him beating Marcell Jansen to the ball, it was a goal that no fan would ever forget. Everyone witnessed the beginning of the second “golden age” of Croatia from their performances.
One of the biggest goals in Croatian history.
As data shows from the past three major tournaments, Croatia has yet to build off Euro 2008. Instead of intense knockout round games, they’ve endured playoff matchups against Turkey and Iceland to simply qualify for these respective tournaments. No qualifying round has gone smoothly following Euro 2008. Srna took significant criticism from several underwhelming performances and received suspensions for excessive yellow cards. Despite his poor play, the captain stepped up once again.
In the playoff round against Turkey, many fans were nervous about the rematch from Euro 2008. Croatia was coming off a horrific performance against Greece. Nobody knew who were going to be the starting strikers, along with the actual formation. Srna played as a right wing rather than his traditional right back position. It ended up paying off with two assists in a memorable 3-0 win over Turkey. Some can argue that Turkey’s woeful defense provided assistance. In the end, both crosses were delivered in excellent areas for Mario Mandzukic and Vedran Corluka to put Croatia back into the limelight.
One of the most satisfying victories in Croatian history.
That wasn’t the only playoff highlight for Srna. The versatile right back scored against Iceland to seal Croatia’s spot in the 2014 World Cup. Mandzukic’s careless red card initially put them in a difficult position. Iceland only needed a draw in Zagreb to claim their place in the World Cup. Following Mateo Kovacic’s mesmerizing run, he laid a pass off to Srna, who blasted a shot from an awkward angle. A better goalkeeper may have saved it. Nevertheless, it was the goal to put a distraught nation at ease and prevented them from missing out on a second consecutive World Cup.
Srna finishes off Iceland to put Croatia back where they belong.
Srna has received plenty of criticism over the past five years. The disparagement is well justified, considering his status as a captain. Kovac was a fiery leader, who never hesitated to make a 50-50 challenge and left his heart on the field. Many have questioned Srna for the diving antics and declining crossing ability. Replacing Kovac as captain was always going to be a difficult task. He never came close to completing it.
For a player who has played fourteen years with the national team, he deserves our gratitude. Srna has delivered plenty of goals and assists in enormous games. How he performs this summer won’t signify much for his overall career. It could be used to rectify his recent poor performances, most notably in a 2-0 loss to Norway, where Srna was responsible for both goals.
Similar to Euro 2012, expectations aren’t very high. What made the last tournament so memorable was how well Croatia played against European powerhouses such as Spain and Italy. They pushed both finalists to the brink. While morale isn’t necessarily high and questions linger across a disoriented federation, Croatia needs to advance into the knockout stage. That will likely require a special free kick or accurate cross from their captain. This is Srna’s final stand, where he will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark. That starts on Sunday against a team that left him crying nearly eight years ago.