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Croatia ready to meet Spanish challenge

Published: Sunday 17 June 2012, 21.45CET
"We play our best when we play against the top teams," said Croatia coach Slaven Bilić before the decisive final Group C meeting with holders Spain in Gdansk.
by Paul Bryan
from Gdansk
Croatia ready to meet Spanish challenge
Slaven Bilić is confident Luka Modrić (second right) and Co can cope with Spain ©Getty Images

Tournament statistics

CroatiaSpain

Goals scored4
 
12
Total attempts30
 
92
Attempts on target20
 
58
Attempts off target10
 
34
Attempts blocked6
 
18
Attempts against woodwork0
 
0
Corners14
 
43
Offsides2
 
21
Yellow cards9
 
11
Red Cards0
 
0
Fouls committed61
 
81
Fouls suffered42
 
102

Media services

 
Published: Sunday 17 June 2012, 21.45CET

Croatia ready to meet Spanish challenge

"We play our best when we play against the top teams," said Croatia coach Slaven Bilić before the decisive final Group C meeting with holders Spain in Gdansk.

Having previously led Croatia to the quarter-finals at UEFA EURO 2008, Slaven Bilić is hoping to repeat the feat in Poland and Ukraine and admits that the thought of facing world and European champions Spain in a first competitive meeting between the teams is inspiring his players.

With four points from their campaign to date, Croatia boast an equal haul to Monday's opponents whom they only trail on goal difference, and know a win at the Arena Gdansk would see them through to the quarter-finals as section winners. Any draw other than 0-0 and 1-1 would also see Bilić's men advance, but the former HNK Hajduk Split, West Ham United FC and Everton FC defender insisted he had little interest in thinking about anything other than victory.

"A [high-scoring] draw doesn't enter into our minds, that would be stupid," the 43-year-old said. "My players know what they must do and their levels of determination are sufficiently high. This is the most important game of their generation."

Having already overseen a 3-1 win against the Republic of Ireland and a subsequent 1-1 draw with Italy, Bilić – part of the Croatia team that beat Spain 2-0 in a friendly in Valencia in 1994 – believes he has happened upon the necessary plan for his players to put into practice against a Spanish side who also gained a win and a draw against the Republic of Ireland and Italy respectively. 

"If we're talking about Spain only at this EURO I believe they have shown two faces," Bilić said. "We analysed both of their games and think that against Italy they were different. We have to play like Spain did in that first game [denying their opponents the ball]. It won't be easy as they have been the best team in the world over the past four or five years but we will look to hold possession for as long as possible while running as much as we can. We play our best when we play against the top teams."

Spain, like Croatia, have a fully-fit squad to choose from and, according to their coach Vicente del Bosque, are fully prepared for an encounter in which they expect difficulties. The defending champions can guarantee first place in Group C with a win while a draw will also suffice to take them into the next phase.

"We are a very strong team but football can always spring surprises," he explained. "You saw that in the semi-finals of the Champions League this season while at these finals I thought Poland and Russia would go through but that didn't come to pass. Anything can happen, we must be aware of that and of the fact that being overconfident in this sport can make things very tricky."

After revealing that he "gets on very well" with his opposite number Bilić, the FIFA World Cup-winning coach praised Croatia, a team he believes "have a lot of qualities" and who have "shown in past tournaments that they are capable of achieving great results". The Spain coach went on to warn: "If we are not alert we will be punished, I have no doubt about that."

Last updated: 24/06/12 13.42CET

http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/news/newsid=1730420.html#bilic+preaches+belief

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