Slaven Bilić feels Croatia "can't do much better" than their opening victory against the Republic of Ireland but nevertheless feels they stand a chance against Italy, a team he rates as highly as Spain.
Bilić's side turned in an eye-catching display at the Municipal Stadium Poznan, with two goals from Mario Mandžukić helping them to a 3-1 win on Sunday. Opening up with three points has given them a strong foundation in Group C, but next up are Italy on Thursday before they face the defending champions next Monday. For now, though, the mood Is buoyant.
"We played an excellent match and this was a big victory," said Bilić. "
We didn't have a weak player last night. That, along with the fact some guys played above themselves, was what decided the winner. Croatia can't do much better than this. We played a top match. OK, we will be more relaxed and not under such pressure after the opening victory, but it can't be much better than this in the next game."
Though it ultimately proved a comfortable enough victory for Bilić's side, it was not all plain sailing, Sean St Ledger initially drawing the Irish level on 19 minutes. "I was not afraid after we conceded," said the coach. "But it wasn't a good feeling. I, as coach, needed to react in order to lift the team after that goal. And I did it. We scored three goals and we also had three, four chances more."
Captain Darijo Srna was a key figure against Giovanni Trapattoni's side, excelling at right-back behind the splendid Ivan Rakitić, and was equally delighted with his team's start. "We are very happy," he said. "We played a top match and it is a big result. We will try to keep our feet on the ground, we don't want to raise expectations now, but we are well aware of what is ahead of us.
We now have two 'match points' and I hope we can take one."
First to attempt to halt Croatia in their tracks are Italy, who themselves played with impressive freedom in drawing 1-1 with defending champions Spain. For Bilić, there can be no drop in standard. "Italy are strong, they think about us and about our play," he said. "[Cesare] Prandelli respects us. They have a team and players who can dominate on the pitch. For me, they are not weaker than Spain, especially with Prandelli in charge. Maybe Ireland were easy to analyse but it will be hard with the Italians. We need to keep at this level if we want to win that match."
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