Croatia go into Monday's last UEFA EURO 2012 Group C fixture against Spain in second spot, two points above Italy, and while that may surprise some, playmaker Luka Modrić tells UEFA.com they always believed they would be in this situation and why the players are "convinced we can surprise" the holders.
UEFA.com: Did you expect to be in this position?
Luka Modrić: Yes, we certainly expected to be in contention after the first two matches, and that we would get through the group stage. We expected that before the EURO started, but perhaps we didn't talk about it to [the press]. Still, we expected that we would make our way to the next stage. Unfortunately we haven't succeeded yet, but we are in a great situation, and I believe we will manage to get through the group stage.
UEFA.com: Are you satisfied with your performances?
Modrić: Yes, I am, especially how I played in the first match against Ireland. The second match [against Italy] wasn't at that level; OK, the second half was better, but still I didn't play the game at the level I can and should.
UEFA.com: You are often compared to Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. What do you think of that comparison, and do you look forward to playing against them?
Modrić: Of course, every player wants to play great matches, especially against the world and European champions, as Spain are. I definitely feel happy to hear those comparisons, because the two of them are the best players in the world in their positions, so it is very nice to hear those comparisons, but I still need to work hard to get to that level.
UEFA.com: Mario Mandžukić has performed well here in attack. What does it mean for the whole team when you have such a great advantage going forward?
Modrić: It means a lot. I was aware of Mandžo's qualities and his attacking skills before the EURO and that he is actually a top player, which he has confirmed. I hope he will continue playing with the same rhythm.
UEFA.com: You are considered the creative heart of the team. Does that impose any additional pressure on you?
Modrić: No, there's no additional pressure – a lot is expected of me every time I play for the national team. On most occasions I have been up to the task, but there have been some matches when I didn't do my best, but that pressure and that responsibility doesn't hinder me. I start every match fully ready to give my best, and that is the most important thing. Sometimes you play a bit better, and sometimes you play a bit worse, but that is part of football.
UEFA.com: Croatia's fans seem to be expecting a win despite the fact you are facing Spain. What do the players think about that?
Modrić: We know we have very demanding fans. Despite the small size of our country, we are very talented and very successful at football. We know people expect a lot from us, regardless of whom we play against – whether it's Spain or any of the strongest teams in the world, the fans always expect us to win. As do we. The atmosphere in the team is fantastic, and we are also convinced we can surprise Spain, despite them being a strong team.
UEFA.com: Croatia have a habit of performing well in games when they are not favourites. Could that be an advantage for you?
Modrić: In the matches when we've not been favourites – like against Spain, Italy, Germany and England in the past – we've always given more than our best. We're always eager to play matches like these, where we can show we can cope with such strong teams and have the quality to be at the top of European football. It's not a coincidence that we've been among the top-ten-ranked national teams for many years, so that's one indicator. We have additional motivation when playing against those great teams.
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