Ivan Gudelj's preparations for Croatia's second Group B game at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship have been hampered by injury and inclement weather, but the coach remains calm ahead of a clash with section leaders Russia.
An injury in their final training session on Tuesday, which was cut 30 minutes short due to a torrential downpour, is set to force Gudlej to alter his plans. "We picked up an injury during our last session, our defender Franjo Prce, and we do not know if he will be available to meet Russia," said the coach, who saw his side draw 0-0 draw with Italy on Sunday, a game in which Prce played the full 80 minutes.
As well as changes to his own lineup, Gudelj will also need to be on alert to the different challenge posed by their opponents. "Russia are excellent, a very disciplined team with high quality in all positions. They are not defensively-orientated like Italy, they are more into an attacking game. But my players are aware of the importance of the match and they will be fully motivated. They just need to be calm and we must not put any extra pressure on them."
Dmitri Khomukha, meanwhile, knows it will be a tough test for his Russia side, but will not allow the opposition to dictate how his team play. "Croatia are strong, but we never move away from the playing model that we have, though, of course, we must be able to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents."
The coach knows the talent Gudelj's team possess within their ranks, but is boosted by the return of Dmitri Barinov from suspension after the midfielder played in all three elite round matches. "Some of Croatia's players are very strong individually, especially in attack. They have great forwards who are quick and physically fit. I would say those guys have all it takes to grow up and become really great players."
After the opening day draw, Italy are searching for a first win when they take on a Ukraine side for whom defeat would mean early elimination. "It will be another difficult game for us," said Azzurrini coach Daniele Zoratto, who has taken a number of plusses from Sunday's 0-0. "The fact we got a positive result from this game gives us confidence."
Meanwhile, it is make-or-break time for Olexandr Holovko's men. A draw would leave their hopes of making the semi-finals hanging by a thread should Croatia defeat Russia, but with Ihor Kyryukhantsev and Pavlo Makohon back from bans, there is renewed hope.
"Italy are traditionally strong, there were almost no weak teams in the history of this country," said Holovko. "Of course, as usual, they are very good defensively. We have to do what we do best and fight hard."
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