At major tournaments, the next game is always the biggest. For Croatia, their first match against the Republic of Ireland was massive – then the meeting with Italy, giants of international football, raised the bar still higher. Now, as Slaven Bilić's men prepare for their final Group C outing, the fixture needs absolutely no building up at all. The name of their opponents is enough: Spain, world and European champions.
Bilić said his team "need to play the best match of their lives on Monday", something of which the players are all too aware, with striker Eduardo noting: "We all know it will be very difficult to beat Spain. They are the favourites to win the EURO and favourites against us. But we will give our best and try to win it – we all believe we can do it."
In Croatia's favour is the fact they have their destiny in their own hands, having picked up four points from the first two games in Poznan. A win would give them top spot in the group and any draw other than 0-0 or 1-1 would also be enough to confirm progress.
Nevertheless, Spain are a daunting prospect, as Eduardo explained. "
It's difficult to pick out any weaknesses in their team, but if I had to say one thing it's that they sometimes leave space at the back," the forward said. "That could be our chance. They are experts at controlling possession 30 metres from goal, where they're just waiting for a hole to open in their opponents' defensive lines where they can play a pass.
"So, our chances will come from counterattacks," the 29-year-old continued. "I think we will get chances. We saw Ireland made two opportunities to score against them and I think we will have our chances too." The key, according to the FC Shakhtar Donetsk man, is patience. "I don't think we'll attack Spain from the beginning – it all depends on how much space they leave us."
With the clamour growing ahead of the Gdansk showdown, Eduardo – a late substitute in both matches so far – confirmed no extra incentive will be needed. "We also have to enjoy this game against the European and world champions," he said. "We don't play Spain every day and it will be an honour to take part in such an important match – extra motivation to win is a given."
Eduardo said Croatia will also have to keep a special eye on the "world class" Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta and said adrenaline will get any players through the game who were feeling the pace – "as this is the EURO, a big competition". With a big game comes big ambitions, and the former Arsenal FC marksman concluded: "My dream would be to reach the quarter-finals after getting past a top-class opponent like Spain, but let's see if my dream will come true."
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