Goran Vlaovic is confident that none of Croatia's Group 8 opponents will block their route to EURO 2004™.
A tough challenge
The Panathinaikos FC player expects a tough challenge from Croatia’s EURO 2004™ qualifying opponents, but believes that having already overcome the group's seeded team, Belgium, in qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, Croatia will be too much for their opponents to handle.
"Our group is good," said Vlaovic. "It is certain that we are the favourites. Belgium are the group seeds, but we have shown in World Cup qualification that we are a better team than they are. Bulgaria are unpredictable, but they are surely not better then Croatia."
With four of the five sides having been paired with one of their Group 8 opponents in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, many players and coaches will face meetings with old adversaries. Belgium and Croatia were the leading lights in World Cup qualifying Group Six, while Andorra and Estonia met in Group Two.
"Croatia are old friends of ours now," said Belgium coach Robert Waseige. Mirko Jozic’s side got the better of Belgium in their World Cup qualifiers, drawing 0-0 in Belgium and winning 1-0 in Croatia. But that was not the only reason why Waseige was sporting a grimace.
'No star teams'
He said: "I think that my first reaction was a grimace when our name came out in Group 8, but our opponents in our group will be difficult to deal with, most of all Croatia, but also Bulgaria and Estonia There are no star teams in the group, we are all teams that will try to fight and battle. However, I can imagine that our opponents will know that it is not going to be easy to deal with Belgium because of our fighting qualities. But we know we will have to be in the proper frame of mind to be able to take on the other teams."
Jozic ponders Bulgaria
Croatia coach Mirko Jozic was particularly aware of the threat posed by Bulgaria. “Bulgaria did not make it to the World Cup finals and this could be their advantage in the qualifications for the European Championship,” he said. “Bulgaria also have a new coach and they are rebuilding their team.“
Bulgarian coach Plamen Markov was not overawed at the prospect of playing Belgium and Croatia and hoped that his side would be challenging for a place in the finals of EURO 2004™ in Portugal.
’Not the hardest group’
”It is not the hardest group or the easiest,” said Markov. “Belgium and Croatia are certainly the toughest teams in the group but we have respect for all of our opponents. We have a young team which we are trying hard to develop. It will certainly be a complicated route to the finals.”
'Anything is possible'
Estonia too are hoping to pose a serious challenge to the favourites in the group. The vice-president of the Estonian Football Association (EJL), Indrek Kannik, was quietly confident that his side could be a match for their more illustrious opponents. “Anything is possible – there could be surprises,” he said. “I hope it will be an interesting group.”
Andorra promise a challenge
Andorra coach David Rodrigo promised that his side would do their best to cause their opponents as many problems as possible. “Certainly Belgium and Croatia are the favourites, but Bulgaria have a promising young team,” he said. “We will try our hardest and will hope to improve in a competition as important as EURO 2004™.”
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