England's summer friendly win over Croatia was secured with a flattering 3-1 scoreline but there are other reasons for Sven Goran Eriksson to be cautious apart from some of the attractive football his opponents played that day.
One is a level of unpredictability about the Croats, who stuttered through qualifying - and eventually had to make it through the play-offs past Slovenia - but also managed to pick up group wins over Belgium and group winners Bulgaria along the way.
Another is the potential inherent in a few of Otto Baric's youngsters, including defender Darijo Srna, who will go to Euro 2004 hoping to replicate the achievements of the retired "golden generation" that included Alen Boksic, Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker.
Good individual form in European club competitions will also be beneficial, and few players have hit such form of late than Dada Prso. He scored the play-off goal which secured Croatia's ticket to Portugal and he scored four goals on his 29th birthday as his club side Monaco beat Deportivo La Coruna 8-3 in the recent record-breaking Champions' League match. If those kind of performances continue, his place alongside Ivica Olic will be assured.
At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa kept seven clean sheets in qualifying and the play-offs. Currently with Shakhtar Donetsk, he has made it no secret that he would prefer to be playing for a big side in western Europe. Thwarting the likes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney would only help his chances.
He will be ably assisted by Igor Tudor ahead of him in central defence. The Juventus centre-half already has plenty of experience at the highest level. Baric greeted yesterday's draw with a quip that there are "at least" two teams in his group who are better than Croatia.
"England and France are among the best teams in Europe whereas Switzerland are more our equals," he said. "We will have a chance if we beat at least one of England or France."
That seems quite a big "if" and will likely depend not so much on stopping opponents as creating chances to beat them. Blowing hot and cold in qualifying saw an on-form midfield - inspired principally by Niko Kovac and Giovani Rosso - sparkle in the 4-0 group win over Belgium but then struggle to replicate that since.
Possible first-choice line-up: (4-4-2) Pletikosa (Shakhtar Donetsk); Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), R Kovac (Bayern Munich), Tudor (Juventus), Simunic (Hertha Berlin); Rapaic (Fenerbache), Rosso (Maccabi Haifa), N Kovac (Hertha Berlin), Zivkovic (Portsmouth); Prso (Monaco), Olic (CSKA Moscow).
Coach: Otto Baric.
Record v England: P2 W0 D1 L1 F1 A3.
Last two v England: England 0 Croatia 0 (Wembley 1996, friendly); England 3 Croatia 1 (Ipswich 2003, friendly).
Recent record in EC finals: 1996 QF; 2000 DNQ.
Best performance in EC finals: 1996 QF.Reuse content