Slaven Bilić was full of gratitude to Israel after their win against Russia earned Croatia a place at UEFA EURO 2008™ – praising their "sporting honesty".
'Thank you, Israel'
Croatia kicked off against F.Y.R. Macedonia on Saturday already certain of progress to Austria and Switzerland thanks to Israel's 2-1 defeat of Russia. Dror Kashtan's side had no hope of qualifying, but nonetheless found the strength to defy Russia in Tel-Aviv. "I want to say thank you to Israel," said coach Bilić. "Not only because they helped us qualify, but because they showed what sporting honesty is. We had heard all sorts of theories before these games but they all turned out to be wrong – the spirit of fair play won."
Israel's success meant Croatia could afford to lose 2-0 in Skopje, with Bilić saying: "The pitch was very, very bad, but everything ended well. We knew the result from Israel at half-time and decided to go for broke and win the match. If we had needed a draw we would have played a different way and wouldn't have lost. We cried in the dressing room after we heard the news from Israel."
'Great to win'
Croatia will now claim top spot in Group E if they avoid a 2-0 defeat by England at Wembley on Wednesday, although Bilić admitted that was the last thing on his mind on Saturday night. "England?" he said. "Don't ask me about England. Let me have a couple of glasses of wine. Israel have showed us the way. We will play fair and try to win. It would be great to win at Wembley."
Midfielder Niko Kranjčar added: "When we heard the result from Tel-Aviv, we opted to play more open in the second half and conceded two goals.
We have a great obligation to the world to play the best we can at Wembley. Israel did not need their victory but they gave their maximum and defeated Russia. We want to stay unbeaten in London, and possibly even to win the match."
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