Croatia started UEFA EURO 2012 in fine style, and coach Slaven Bilić told UEFA.com he expected his team to continue in the same vein ahead of their game with Italy in Poznan.
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Slaven Bilić told UEFA.com that he was delighted with how Croatia had started their UEFA EURO 2012 campaign, following their 3-1 win against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday. However, he insisted that it was no surprise and is expecting more of the same when his team play their next Group C game against Italy in Poznan tomorrow.
On the performance against Ireland
I was really satisfied. People have told me our match was the most attractive of the tournament so far, even for neutral fans. We defeated strong opponents and we deserved it. We made our first step to achieving our main goal, which is to reach the next round.
Look, every team can play better, but I would be satisfied if we can play tactically, technically and physically similar to the way we played against Ireland. Now we are faced with stronger opponents, but we are well prepared. The only thing we need to improve are some psychological aspects, in terms of recovery and peaking again. A national trait among Croatians is that it takes us longer to wind down than other countries.
How recent criticism has spurred Croatia on
That is one of the reasons we are strong. It didn't seem to matter that we were ranked in the top ten teams in the world for the last five years, and that we'd won 42 games from 60. We went through a difficult period and if you come through, it just makes you stronger – and we did come through. That is what I keep telling my players: we should enjoy the EURO as we've had a lot of pressure to put up with.
On forward pair Mario Mandžukić and Nikica Jelavić
I have to say I am impressed by them. It's fascinating how they play together. They combined well and got through a lot of running. They are also good off the pitch too – great friends. It's not easy to mark them because they are strong in the air and on the ground. But, we have other great forwards too: Eduardo and Kalinić. I am really satisfied, but as much as I have been impressed, this is what I expect of them. The important thing to tell them is that they're not under pressure to score goals, then the goals often come ...
On being underdogs against Italy
Over the last two years we are really used to being the favourites, but we are adaptable. Italy are the favourites on paper, while Spain are the favourites to be the top team in the group, but it's only on paper. We are aware it will be a more difficult game than against Ireland, but who the favourites are is irrelevant.
This is the European Championship. OK, maybe Italy are favourites, but it was such a minor factor for us in our preparations and we won't use it as an excuse. We came here with the goal to reach the next stage and for that it's necessary for us to have a good result against Italy.
The tactical challenge Italy pose
I really respect Italy and Mr Prandelli who has changed the team round in the last two years. He changed the style and philosophy, and they play more like Spain now. I take my hat off to them. I wouldn't say they are better than Spain, but their play is very diverse and they are difficult to analyse. But, like any other team, they have their own problems and blind spots and we will try to take advantage.
On going out to win
I think we have some top players, but players who are better when they have the ball than when they don't. We set our aims very high in every match and the Croatian public have high demands from us, expecting victory in every match we play. We will try to control the game, of course defending as a team is a priority, but we love having the ball. I think our chances in the game are 50-50.
On how Croatia's attack rates in the tournament
I know we played very well against Ireland going forward. We dominated possession and we were flooding forward. That's the way we should play but it's very dangerous if you lose the ball where you shouldn't, where it is lethal to lose it. We were good not only because of the two strikers, but also in those crucial positions of building an attack where we didn't lose the ball and allow them to counterattack.
There are many teams that are playing very well and are good going forward. Italy are one, Russia impressed us and all of Europe, and I think football is becoming more open. I can guarantee we're not going to change the way we play. Although Italy are a great team and they are going to try to force us to defend very deep, when we have the ball we will also try to be very dangerous.