An elder statesman of the Croatia team at 33, goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa is playing at his fourth major tournament at UEFA EURO 2012, though it may be the end of an era with coach Slaven Bilić – who has stuck with him as first choice throughout his tenure – moving on to FC Lokomotiv Moskva this summer. The FC Rostov custodian's experience is a massive bonus for his younger team-mates, but as he told UEFA.com, playing for the national team is still a big responsibility.
UEFA.com: The slogan on the team bus reads 'our pride is our strength'. Does that help to motivate you?
Pletikosa: Definitely. Just playing for the national team is something that really motivates me. Since Croatia regained independence, our football team has represented our national spirit - the whole country expresses itself through these football matches. We definitely know how to cope with that.
UEFA.com: How important is the first match against Ireland for the rest of the competition?
Pletikosa: If we win that first match, there is a great chance of going through, and if we do get through, anything is possible. I think we are all ready, fully focused, in great condition, we have trained very well and we will be ready. Ireland are great opponents, they are very strong; I think they haven't lost for 14 or 15 matches now. It is going to be very hard to score a goal against them. But sometimes if you score first, it's almost like like a golden goal. I think we'll be ready to put in a big performance.
UEFA.com: Having seen a lot of the Irish team play during your time in England with Tottenham Hotspur FC, what do you expect of them?
Pletikosa: The first thing that crosses my mind when I think about football in England is the mentality - the mentality is fantastic at every match, and at every training session.
The players are born with the belief that they should never giving up - they always fight to the end, they fight for every blade of grass and they go after the ball at all times. Fortunately, we have a lot of players that have played there and we will cope with that style of play.
UEFA.com: How are you preparing to face the great strikers that Spain and Italy have?
Pletikosa: I go through the same preparation for most matches, since I have a lot of experience playing for the national team. The nervousness that I felt ten years ago when I was at the World Cup in Japan and Korea isn’t there anymore. If I just prepare in a normal way, I give my defenders more confidence. We talk a lot, we discuss what might happen on the pitch. So as far as I am concerned, I think I will be completely ready and I will do everything to stop their forward men.
UEFA.com: What are your predictions for the group phase?
Pletikosa: No one can take away our hope. We all believe that we will achieve the best possible result and that we will win, especially in the first match, and that will help to propel us into the next round.
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