Croatia have barely been in Poland for 24 hours yet Slaven Bilić and his squad are already comfortably settled as they make their final preparations for UEFA EURO 2012.
With four days to go until their opening Group C game against the Republic of Ireland, Bilić has been busy putting his squad through their paces in Warka, where they received a warm reception upon their arrival on Tuesday. "I want to thank our hosts, the whole region and the Warka mayor, as it's obvious they've put a lot of effort into preparing everything for us," the Croatia coach said. "The camp is perfect."
"Everyone enjoyed the welcome at the airport, it was magnificent," Croatian Football Federation (HNS) general secretary Zorislav Srebrić told UEFA.com. "There were a lot of people in the town, considering it's a small place. The welcome we got before entering the hotel was like the atmosphere at home, and people are doing their best to make us feel like we are at home."
Four years ago Croatia stayed in the Austrian town of Bad Tatzmannsdorf and, given they reached the last eight in 2008, Srebrić is hoping similar surroundings can prompt similar results. "There are certain similarities," he said. "The only difference is that it is 1,100km to Zagreb from here and 300km from Bad Tatzmannsdorf to Zagreb. It doesn't matter that we're far from home, though. I'm sure we'll have support here and at all the stadiums."
For his part, Bilić is concerned only with what happens on the pitch, and conditions in Warka should help his team acclimatise. "Our training pitch is excellent and in perfect condition," he said. "They've even cut the grass to the level that we'll have on the pitches in Poznan and Gdansk. We have the peace we needed and that will be important for our mental condition, given everything that's waiting for us.
"We have four training sessions left and each of them is very important," the coach added. "We are lowering the intensity of training now, and we will be talking a lot during practice. Thursday's session will be our most important and we'll also do some last-minute practice on free-kicks as it's most useful to work on that as close as possible to matches. That's the thing that stays in your head for a few days, so it's good to work on it last."
Four years ago Croatia began with a win against Austria, thanks to Luka Modrić's early penalty, and Bilić's plans for a repeat performance are swiftly taking shape. "I don't have any headaches," he said. "I still have a few options for the team – let's call them plan A, B and C – and I will pick one of those options one hour before the match. Whichever option I pick I am sure it will be a good one."
One key figure in those options will be in-form striker Nikica Jelavić, who ended the season with ten goals in as many games for Everton FC and is set to be a key figure in the Croatia attack. "He’s one of the reasons we are very confident ahead of the start of the EURO," Bilić explained. "
He is in top form and he made a major impact very suddenly. His progress is unbelievable. He is one of our greatest assets for this tournament."
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