In our ongoing series of interviews ahead of Euro 2008, DW-WORLD spoke to Croatian striker Mladen Petric, who is regarded as one of the squad's most dangerous players. His country is one of the insider favorites.
Mladen Petric catapulted England out of the tournament
Twenty-seven-year-old Mladen Petric came to the Bundesliga in January 2007. Previously, he played for Basle, becoming leading goalscorer in the Swiss Super League with 19 goals in during 2006/7 season. Last season, he was one of Borussia Dortmund's mainstays, scoring 13 goals.
DW-WORLD.DE: Mladen Petric, you are one of the most important players in the Croatian squad. Many experts rate your national team as having a good chance of winning the championship. Are Croatia's chances really that good?
Mladen Petric: I think that we do have a good chance because we are a good team. Of course, it won't be easy. Everyone says that we are not in a difficult group, but I think it is an extremely tough one. Germany is another favorite to take the title. Poland was at the top of the qualification group in front of Portugal and Austria has the home advantage. So it is going to be tough.
How much pressure does it put you under by being treated as the insiders' favorite?
We are not under any pressure. The Croatian Soccer Association has already said that it is very happy that we have even qualified. Many didn't think we would make it this far. That's why we are not under any pressure even if a lot of people say that we are the insider favorites. We have our goals and we know what we want to achieve. That is the way it should be.
What are those goals?
First of all, it's our aim to get through the group stage. Then we will see how things develop. There's no point in saying that we want to get through to the last sixteen. One you have reached that goal, what then?
But you must be thinking about getting to the final?
I can't really think that far ahead. It always depends on the shape that we're in on the day and our opponents. You have to have a bit of luck, too. A lot can happen. I think it is important that we get through the group stage.
The Croatian squad had a disappointing time at the Euro 2004 in Portugal and the World Cup in Germany. Things just didn't turn out as well as the fans expected. Is Euro 2008 an opportunity to make amends?
The way that I look at it is that the pas is past and there is no point thinking about it any longer. We put on a great performance to qualify and that won the hearts of the spectators and our fans. The European Championship is not a way of making amends for something that went wrong in the past. But it is very important. And that in itself is enough. We just want to be successful.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current Croatia squad?
That will be revealed during the European Championship.
Some insiders have got their money on Croatia to take the tournament
People can get some idea if they watch the last qualifying game between Croatia and England in London. That was a humiliation that cost the English their place in the championship.
It was not a humiliation. We had to win the game because it meant such a lot to a small country like ours to win against England in London. We went there to write history. That was sufficient motivation for us.
Can we expect more surprises like that? Will the spectators continue to see Croatia playing attractive, sound soccer?
I hope so because we played some great games in the qualifiers. I also hope that we can repeat this success during the tournament.
Croatia is now being represented by a new generation. Is Euro 2008 a test of their maturity?
There has definitely been a very positive development. Not many of us were confident that we would make such a strong showing in the qualifiers because coach Slaven Bilic started off with a young squad. But he has found a good mix between young and experienced players. I believe in the future even if the Kovac brothers decide to retire after the championships. After the tournament we will have a lot of good young players who will move up to take their place.
The input of the Bundesliga on the Croatian national squad is visible. There are a lot of players who currently play in Germany or have done in the past. Has Germany played a central role in the development of the Croatian side?
Mladen Petric has also put on some fine acrobatics for Borussia Dortmund
I don't think that our development as Bundesliga players has that much to do with Croatian soccer because we have no influence on the Croatian league. It's a bit of an advantage for us because a lot of our players play in Germany and we know the German squad pretty well, including its strengths and its weaknesses.
Germany are set to meet Croatia on June 12. Will the game be a pivotal one for Croatia on the way to hoisting the trophy?
It's not possible to say that yet. It depends what happens in the other games. I don't think that we need to be afraid of any of our opponents. But I think that our most important game will be the first one, the opening match against Austria.
Is it going to be a difficult game because Austria is one of the host nations of Euro 2008?
Well yes, Austria will be playing at home, but there are also a lot of Croatians living in Austria and Croatia is not so far away from Austria, so I'm sure that there will also be a lot of Croatians in the stadium.
Is Germany one of the favorites to win the championship?
Germany is always one of the favorites -- they proved that again at the World Cup, although they did have a home advantage there. I think that Germany will definitely be one of the top six.