Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic named a 26-man squad for Euro 2020 on Monday, comprising players who won silver at the 2018 World Cup and their younger peers and led by veteran Luka Modric.
“Our latest results were not the best, but I’m an optimist. Our first goal is to get out of the group,” Dalic told reporters.
Croatia have been drawn in Group D, and will play England in London on June 13.
Dalic described that opening match as the toughest in the group stage as England “have good quality and we play at Wembley”.
Croatia then travel to Glasgow where they will face the Czech Republic on June 18 and Scotland four days later.
“We have difficult opponents, but I believe in us. We are at our best when the going gets tough,” Dalic said.
Captain Modric, 35, is among several players who took part in Croatia’s wonderful run at the World Cup in Russia in 2018 where they beat England in the semi-final before losing 4-2 to France in the final.
That group of experienced players includes defenders Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren and Sime Vrsaljko, midfielders Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Milan Badelj as well as attackers Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Ante Rebic.
While expectations from the team at home are high, Dalic is cautious.
“The bar is set too high, our ambitions are not realistic,” he said in an interview with Sportske Novosti daily Monday.
“We are still among the 10 strongest (teams) in Europe, but there are many candidates for the throne who are ahead of us.”
Young players like midfielder Nikola Vlasic, forward Josip Brekalo and goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic bring new energy, but they need time to reach their maximum, he said.
Dalic’s squad includes also uncapped 19-year-old Dinamo Zagreb defender Josko Gvardiol.
The squad includes a stand-by list of eight players. It must be officially declared to UEFA by June 1 at the latest.
Goalkeepers (3): Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Simon Sluga (Luton Town/ENG)
Defenders (9): Domagoj Vida (Besiktas/TUR), Dejan Lovren (Zenit Saint Petersburg/RUS), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Borna Barisic (Rangers/SCO), Duje Caleta-Car (Marseille/FRA), Josip Juranovic (Legia Warsaw/POL), Domagoj Bradaric (Lille/FRA), Mile Skoric (Osijek), Josko Gvardiol (Dinamo Zagreb)
Midfielders (7): Luka Modric (Real Madrid/ESP), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea/ENG), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan/ITA), Milan Badelj (Genoa/ITA), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta/ITA), Nikola Vlasic (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Luka Ivanusec (Dinamo Zagreb)
Forwards (7): Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan/ITA), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim/GER), Ante Rebic (Milan/ITA), Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg/GER), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna/ESP)
Stand-by list (8): Filip Uremovic (Rubin Kazan/RUS), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split), Toma Basic (Bordeaux/FRA), Marin Pongracic (Wolfsburg/GER), Kristijan Lovric (HNK Gorica), Lovro Majer (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek), Nikola Moro (Dynamo Moscow/RUS).