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Luka Modrić is counselling his Croatia team-mates against complacency ahead of their play-off decider at home against Turkey on Tuesday, despite holding a 3-0 lead following their remarkable first-leg triumph in Istanbul.
Turkey coach Guus Hiddink had promised "a very hard night for Croatia" on Friday, but his words began to lose their power inside the first two minutes as Ivica Olić found the net. Mario Mandžukić doubled the deficit before the break and Vedran Ćorluka headed in Croatia's third shortly after half-time to stun the 50,000-strong home crowd and leave the visitors on the verge of a place at UEFA EURO 2012.
"We've only done half our job," warned Modrić. "We really need to rest a bit in the next few days and prepare well for the second match. The most important thing is that we stay focused now.
We can't relax, even a little bit. It could be very dangerous."
The Tottenham Hotspur FC midfielder is no doubt mindful of the memorable quarter-final between the two sides at UEFA EURO 2008, when Croatia thought they had sealed a spot in the last four after Ivan Klasnić opened the scoring with a minute of extra time remaining. Turkey still found time to level, however, and Modrić was one of three Croatia players to miss from the spot as their rivals went through.
Unable to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there had been a sense that Croatia never properly recovered from that defeat, but Modrić believes they are now returning to their proper level. "The last time we played as well as that was [our 2-1 win] against Germany at EURO 2008," he said. "That's a fact and we shouldn't run away from it.
We're back and we played like a great team again, in every position. We need to repeat that in Zagreb and seal our spot at the EURO, where we belong."
Slaven Bilić's men can expect vociferous backing at the Stadion Maksimir after a clamour for tickets in the wake of Friday's result, but the coach himself is also sounding a cautious note. "Don't be fooled: it won't be just a friendly match," he said, while refusing to reveal who he will field in place of suspended duo Ćorluka and Tomislav Dujmović.
Turkey face more pressing selection issues as Emre Belözoğlu, Hakan Balta, Sabri Sarıoğlu and Arda Turan will all be missing after incurring bans in the first leg. "I expect the players who take their place to play for their honour, for themselves, for their country," commented Hiddink, despite the sense of wariness in the opposition camp. "
Let's face facts – it's difficult, almost impossible, to qualify."
The Dutch coach wants his side to above all restore lost pride and is urging his fringe players to show their worth. "Some will get opportunities to play themselves into the team because some young, new players will knock on the door to play," he said.
Under contract until next summer, Hiddink nonetheless feels that Bilić has been fortunate enough to call upon more hardened talents for this tie, saying: "Teams such as Trabzonspor play Champions League football and Beşiktaş play in the Europa League, but in between those games they are hardly challenged. Most of the Croatian players play in strong leagues outside of their home country, having to perform at their maximum every week."
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