herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Confident Croats plan to stay at Euro party until final hours

CROATIA have a plan, and it involves staying on in Poland and Ukraine until July.

The Croatian team, which has made it out of the group stages three times in four attempts at the European Championship finals, has so much confidence that team officials have booked out their hotel in Warka, south of Warsaw, until the last day of the tournament.

"We have big plans and we are planning to stay here until July 1," said midfielder Tomislav Dujmovic.

First up of course is a clash with Ireland in Poznan tomorrow in Group C. The general consensus is that Spain will win the group without breaking sweat, so it's a battle between Ireland, Croatia and Italy to finish second. And the Croats know that a win against Ireland would set them up nicely for their second match, against Italy.

For all their confidence, Ireland are something of a concern for Croatia, and have been over the years -- apart from a 1-0 win in Zagreb in the Euro 2000 qualifiers, when Davor Suker profited from a Kenny Cunningham slip to nick the winner, they have never beaten Ireland.

They also haven't scored in their last two games against Ireland, a 0-0 draw last August and a 1-0 friendly win for Ireland in Dublin in 2004.

"We haven't scored much against Ireland in the past. Ask Davor Suker, he's scored against them -- that's the best option," joked Everton star Nikica Jelavic, aware that Suker scored that winner in 1999 and was also on target when Croatia drew 2-2 with Mick McCarthy's team in Dublin in 2001, on a day when John O'Shea said hello to international football.

Coach Slaven Bilic (pictured) thought enough of Ireland to break away from the team's training camp and fly to Hungary to see Ireland play in a friendly there last Monday. He knows that he's expected to beat Ireland but also understands that doing so is not so easy.

"I've studied all of their games and their defensive discipline is amazing," he said of Ireland.

"You dominate the play, you have the ball in possession and you attack, but they just don't give you too many chances to score. We will have to run harder than them, stay compact, fight for each rebound and be really patient.

"We can't afford to lose our nerve, because Ireland can easily hurt you with a single counter-attack through Duff, McGeady, Long or Keane. How you start is always key to your confidence and self-esteem, and Ireland is our big chance. But I'm sure they're saying the same about us."

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