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Coach Leo Beenhakker is hoping Poland can sneak into the UEFA EURO 2008™ quarter-finals "through the back door" as he prepares his players for tonight's critical Group B clash with Croatia in Klagenfurt.
The stakes for Poland could scarcely be higher when they take on Slaven Bilić's men at the Wörthersee Stadion. While Croatia are already through to the quarter-finals as group winners, Beenhakker's men lie fourth in the section after taking one point from their first two games. Their campaign will be over regardless of this evening's result, however, should Germany beat Austria in Vienna in the other match. Beenhakker was philosophical, though, when asked to sum up his team's predicament. "We have to put our effort into what we have in our hands," said the Dutchman. "We can't control events in Vienna. All I can do is plan with my players to try and get the win over Croatia. We are focusing on our task and then we have to hope things elsewhere go our way to qualify through the back door."
Beenhakker said he expects his opposite number Bilić to rest some players for what is the first competitive international between the sides, but the 65-year-old insists that will not make his team's task easier. "Croatia have a certain philosophy of playing and that will not change very much, no matter who is playing," he said. "Positions and styles are more or less fixed, so it's just a case of different players doing the jobs. I'm confident we have done our homework on every player in the squad of 23." Regarding his own personnel, Beenhakker will again have do without captain Maciej Żurawski, who strained a thigh against Germany. Marek Saganowski should deputise in attack.
Croatia are enjoying this competition so far, building on the 1-0 opening win against Austria with a stunning 2-1 victory over Germany – results which have left them with six points, three clear at the top of the group and assured of first place. Bilić confirmed that changes will be made to his lineup but maintains his players are fully motivated. "We can't wait for the match to start. Our opponents are a great side but we have a strong desire to continue playing well and achieving good results," said the 39-year-old. The Croatia players will wear black armbands out of respect for a 19-year-old Croatian fan who died tragically before the Germany game.
Bilić dismisses the notion that he will be fielding a weakened team, with one eye on the quarter-finals, adding that he has belief in his entire squad. "This will not be a reserve side," he commented. "We have 23 players in all and there is no first team, second team or reserve team. I have no doubt whatsoever that my team can beat Poland, whatever team I put out. I have total respect for Poland but I also have confidence in my players."
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