Croatia won their first match but the manner of their 1-0 win over co-hosts Austria was laboured – with several of their players looking jaded by the start of the second-half – and a similar performance against the Germans could result in a real hammering. The Germans looked alert and sharp in their 2-0 victory over Poland, with Polish-born Lukas Podolski grabbing a brace and showing once again that he is the man for the big stage.
Bilic, though, is convinced that his youngish side will benefit the team and that Germany may be too complacent against the lowly rated Austrians.
“Against Germany, it is imperative we raise our level in every department,” he said. “A team can get out of trouble with one player out of form. But not if there are five or six at the same time,” added Bilic, who highlighted shortcomings in defence and in the attacking midfielders, who were accused of inadequately supporting the strikes.
Bilic, who was in the last Croatian team to win a Euro finals match when they beat defending champions Denmark 3-0 in 1996, said that the sport was such an odd game they could still beat the Germans not playing at their best. “Football being what it is, we could beat Germany by playing worse than we did against Austria. But we can’t rely on that happening,” said Bilic, who wrote and played the signature tune for the Croats Euro adventure with his band.
The key will be ‘little genius’ Luka Modric, the recent Spurs signing shone for the first 25 minutes against Austria before fading into anonymity for the rest of the match. Bilic expects nothing less of his star man than for him to show that he will “be the best player of the tournament.”
“That’s not to put a burden on his shoulders but, because it’s what I think,” said 39-year-old Bilic.
Midfield partner Nico Kranjcar describes his teammate simply as “the new superstar of Croatian football.”
Germany’s already proven superstar Michael Ballack is certainly not taking anything for granted going into the Croat match especially after they beat England twice in their qualifying campaign.
“We are at 80-85 percent of our full potential, but we have to orientate ourselves towards Thursday’s opponents,” said Ballack. “We will have a much different task against Croatia, they also want to be European champions and they beat England twice, which is no easy feat.”
Meanwhile, Croatia’s England-slayer Mladen Petric wants to draw inspiration from last November’s Wembley winner as his side prepare to face the Germans. The 27-year-old striker, who scored the winner in the 3-2 victory over England, failed to score in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Austria but also wants to inflict an upset defeat on Germany.
“That was one of the most important games for us, because we proved to ourselves that a small country like Croatia can beat a big team like England, with all their good players,” he said.