"I don't have a headache – I just have plan A, B and C. And I will pick one of those plans. Whichever plan I pick, it will be good."
Thus spoke a rather bullish Slaven Bilić yesterday after being pressed on the doubts surrounding his team selection for Croatia's Group C opener against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday. So what are his various plans? Nobody ought to expect any huge surprises as Bilić is sure to stick with a recognisable formation and style of play, but how can he get the best out of his squad? Let's take a closer look.
Between the sticks, Stipe Pletikosa's position is safe, and he is one of the most experienced players in the squad having made 91 appearances since his debut in 1999. Bilić also seems decided on three of his four defenders, with Domagoj Vida his preferred option at right-back and Vedran Ćorluka now operating in the middle – where his partner will be Gordon Schildenfeld. Bilić has clearly put his trust in Schildenfeld since his superb performances against Turkey in the play-offs, and that just leaves Ivan Strinić and Danijel Pranjić in a tussle for the left-back spot, to which both have equal claims.
In midfield, captain Darijo Srna will patrol the right flank and Luka Modrić has locked down the playmaker role, which means there are two berths up for grabs. If Bilić sticks with the recipe that earned Croatia their 3-0 play-off win in Istanbul, Tomislav Dujmović will be the holding player and Ivan Rakitić will occupy the left wing. The alternative would be to field Rakitić in the centre, in place of Dujmović, with the in-form Ivan Perišić on the left – a far more attacking strategy, but certainly an appealing one.
Croatia's top forward at the moment is Nikica Jelavić and he can count on a place in the first XI. Mario Mandžukić has the slight edge as Bilić's second choice, but Eduardo's goal in Saturday's friendly against Norway has perhaps complicated that question. Having been called up to replace the injured Ivica Olić, Nikola Kalinić is fourth choice.
What is certain is that Bilić will stick with his favoured 4-4-2 formation, but that still leaves scope for a variety of approaches. Will he go down the more defensive route with either Dujmović or Ognjen Vukojević in the middle, or will Croatia come out all guns blazing, featuring Rakitić alongside Modrić and Perišić out wide? All will be revealed on Sunday…
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