Croatia coach Slaven Bilić expects Sweden to provide his team with a stiff test on Wednesday when they continue their UEFA EURO 2012 preparations by hosting Erik Hamrén's men in a friendly at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.
Although Croatia have an excellent record against Sweden – winning 2-1 in a 2003 friendly and twice beating them 1-0 in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying – Bilić told UEFA.com he is not about to take the Scandinavians lightly. "
Sweden are a very good team, I would say they are among the top ten in Europe. Maybe they aren't Spain but they defeated the Netherlands. That means they can beat anyone.
"This is a very important match for us. Not just because it's the last match before we start our final preparations for EURO [with friendlies against Estonia and Norway in May and June], but also because of the strength of the opposition," added Bilić, who in July celebrates his sixth anniversary as Croatia boss.
The 43-year-old's actions back up his words. While some nations have selected relatively inexperienced squads for the February friendlies, Croatia's contingent shows no real surprises. It is also a squad which, with just 20 players, has been designed to give everyone as much playing time as possible. Yet Bilić is also upbeat about those players who, until now this season, have not been consistent starters at their clubs.
"Things are looking better," he said. "Most of the players are playing in their clubs and although it's not ideal everywhere, I can say the situation is good. We will try to give a chance to most of the players against Sweden, but we will watch out for the quality of the match. We hope it will be competitive."
If Bilić is stressing the importance of the Sweden game, the minds of the players may already be wandering towards the summer showcase. "I feel good. I am expecting an excellent match against Sweden and we need to play well," said forward Eduardo. "The most difficult part was reaching EURO 2012 and any of the 16 teams can cause a surprise there. But we believe in ourselves, we have a great team and everyone abroad respects us."
Captain Darijo Srna echoed Eduardo's sentiments. "I am still enjoying our play-off victory over Turkey – we talked a lot about it when we met up last night. We are so happy we showed our quality in that tie. Now we are all thinking about the first EURO match against Ireland, knowing that if we win, we will have one foot in the next stage."
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.