A home game against England on Wednesday will represent a serious test of Croatia's UEFA EURO 2008™ credentials under Slaven Bilić.
The coach, who played in England with Everton FC and West Ham United FC, has made a stirring start since his appointment, following up a friendly victory over Italy with a goalless Group E draw in Russia before Saturday's record-equalling 7-0 win against Andorra. FC Basel 1893 striker Mladen Petrić epitomised the confidence within the Croatia camp with four goals on Saturday, but expects a far sterner examination against England. "We can win that match, even though they are world-class team," he said.
With Croatia yet to lose an official match at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, Bilić has reason for optimism. "I am sure we will get brilliant support," he said. "With a full stadium and the fans behind us we have a good chance, a really good chance, against England." When Croatia drew the likes of England, Israel and Russia in Group E, there were nervous noises back home. "The people in Croatia were saying this is the hardest group we have ever had in qualification," said Bilić.
Looking ahead to the first of two games against pool favourites England, the 38-year-old added: "They have a great team but they had a really bad [FIFA] World Cup and are trying to put that right now. They have a new manager and are very motivated but we have a good team and are going to give them a good game. Definitely." English newspapers have been full of quotes from Bilić expressing his surprise at England's negative tactics in Germany, and Steve McClaren's side's performance in a 0-0 home draw against F.Y.R. Macedonia may have put further doubts into English minds.
F.Y.R. Macedonia defender Goce Sedloski felt England were "a little bit arrogant" at Old Trafford on Saturday, firming his belief that Croatia "have a very good chance" of defeating the same opponents. Croatia supporters are well aware of England's indifferent form, but the listlessness they showed against the Macedonians has sent a mixed message to Bilić's players. "Maybe it's not a good result for us as England will come to Zagreb more motivated after they failed to win that match," said goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
'A good chance'
Bilić is making no predictions. "We're good and we're going to play well," he said. "We have a good chance of finishing in the top two." If Croatia manage to overcome England on Wednesday, that might represent the least of their ambitions.
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