Croatia manager Slaven Bilic refused to follow Giovanni Trapattoni’s lead and name his starting XI for their opening Euro 2012 fixture with the Republic of Ireland.
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The 43 year-old is managing at his final major international tournament before stepping down as manager of his national team and lavished praised on his opposing manager stating: “What can I say about Trapattoni? He is Mr. ‘Calcio (Italian for ‘Football’). He has had top jobs and won trophies with Juventus, Milan as well as at clubs in countries all over Europe. He is famous for his words, even in German where he of course once managed. I have total respect for him and what he has done with Ireland. Every training session he conducts is conducted with 100% effort, commitment and professionalism.”
When repeatedly asked if “in the interest of fairness” he would, like Trapattoni, name his starting XI, Bilic would not be swayed and chose to instead “avoid Trapattoni’s mind games. This is a psychological game. I know him (Trapattoni) very well and I have known my starting team for two weeks now but I do not want to name it. That is not what I do.”
The man who played at the 1998 World Cup for the former Yugoslav state maintained that his side would not be phased by the fact that the Republic of Ireland would have tens of thousands of more fans at the match than his own side would, stating: “This was predictable. Our supporters will not be in such big numbers but they are loud enough and I am sure they will give us a push. We are expecting about 7,000 Croatian supporters and they will be very loud, don’t worry about that.”
With questioning regularly returning to Ireland manager Trapattoni, Bilic maintained that the game would not be a tactical battle between the pair: “I have watched Ireland very closely and they have done very well. They were not hosts so did not get a wild card and they did very well to qualify from a Group that had Russia and Slovakia. Probably Robbie Keane won’t be on the bench(!!); we know everything about them and they know everything about us. We have to play a huge match and play the best we can and if we do, we will win, I am sure about that.
“This Croatian team is at its best and has huge experience. We don’t want to talk anymore, we have talked too much and just want the football to start. We will soon see, who is the better, the Irish team or us.”