Croatia aims to take control of Group C
Poznan, Poland (Sports Network) - Croatia coach Slaven Bilic couldn't have asked for a better start to his team's Euro 2012 campaign.
The top two teams in Group C, Italy and Spain, played to a 1-1 draw, while Bilic saw his Croatia side grab a 3-1 win over Ireland to sit atop the group after one game.
"We were dreaming about winning, being in this position," Bilic said following the win over the Irish. "We have three points and are top of the group. We are playing against two teams that may have more quality but I'm sure that Ireland will also play hard matches against Spain and Italy."
Bilic knows the road will get tougher as Italy awaits Croatia on Thursday after holding the defending champions to a 1-1 draw to open its tournament.
Croatia's forward duo of Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic looked dominant against Ireland, combining to score all three goals. And although Ireland was able to equalize after an early goal from Mandzukic, Bilic was pleased with how his team responded.
"Our goals came from really good play," Bilic said. "It can happen that you concede from set pieces - our defense had a blind moment - but we were more creative. You can't be happy after you concede but it was a good response from our team. From the first minute, I was really sure we were the better team and that we had a great chance of winning the game."
Croatia needed three points against Ireland, which is the weakest team in the group, and you wonder how confident Bilic will be ahead of the contest with Italy, which put together a strong performance that even had coach Cesare Prandelli a bit disappointed after the game against Spain.
"What disappointed me about this evening was that we allowed them to equalize so quickly," Prandelli said. "We were playing the world champions but we should have made it more difficult for them after we scored. We need to improve on certain things. We will analyze this game and work on some things. We expended a lot of energy which we will need to recover for our next match."
Assuming Italy is able to recover that energy, the Azzurri will provide a more formidable test for Croatia after pushing Spain to the limit.
Antonio Di Natale came off the bench in the second half and scored on his first touch of the match, but Spain responded quickly to equalize through Cesc Fabregas.
The cloud of a match-fixing scandal is once again hanging over the heads of the Italians, but the team did a wonderful job of not letting it carry over to the field.
Despite such a good effort against Spain on Sunday, Italy must come away with a good result in Thursday's game or an early exit is very much a possibility.
A win for Croatia would put the team in the next round ahead of its final group match against Spain, while Italy should be eyeing three points against Ireland in its last group contest, but must take something from Thursday's game to take a step toward the quarterfinals.