Croatia are going to need a more
inspired performance from playmaker Luka Modric if they are to
get the goals they need against Spain to reach the
quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
Somewhat surprisingly, Croatia coach Slaven Bilic had
claimed before Thursday's 1-1 draw with Italy in Group C that
Modric was better than his opposite number Andrea Pirlo.
Such a remark was tempting fate and Pirlo clearly outshone
his opposite number in midfield, dictating the first-half rhythm
as Italy created a hatful of chances and even scoring himself.
Croatia, on the other hand, had trouble stringing passes
together, especially during the first half, and depended on the
physical presence of Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic rather
than Modric's craft to worry the Italians.
Modric did, however, play a role in closing down Pirlo in
the second half, a key factor as Croatia fought their way back
into the game and looked the more likely winners after
Mandzukic's second-half equaliser.
Croatia, quarter-finalists in Austria and Switzerland four
years ago, must now beat European and world champions Spain or
draw and score at least two goals to go through without
depending on Italy's result against Ireland.
"I'm very optimistic for the next match," said Bilic whose
side have committed 40 fouls in their two games, more than any
other team apart from the Czech Republic.
"I'm really satisfied we've four points from the two games.
It could be even better but four points is optimal, realistic
and now we have a real chance to go through."
Bilic appeared to be clutching at straws after the game when
he criticised referee Howard Webb for failing to award his team
"I don't agree with coaches who don't comment on referees,"
he said. "This is very important for my job. I'm sure that was a
clear penalty on Jelavic, and the referee was not good."
"Then there was a foul before the Italy free-kick [from
which Pirlo scored]. I didn't like his performance. I think he
was a referee who helped the Italian team a lot."
However, anything is a bonus for Bilic who will end his
six-year stint in the job at the end of the tournament.
"We have four points after two matches - we would be happier
to have six, but this is fair enough," he said.
"I am sure that the whole of Croatia would have accepted a
situation where we had four points going into the last game, and
we are going into that game with a realistic chance of going
through from a group like this."
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