Croatia can go a long way at Euro 2008 despite their leading striker Arsenal's Eduardo having to miss the tournament because of a dreadful injury claimed their coach Slaven Bilic on Saturday.
Bilic, 39, admitted the loss of the Brazil-born Eduardo, who suffered a compound fracture of the left leg following a tackle from Birmingham defender Martin Taylor in February, had hit the squad but even without him he had the feeling provided Croatia beat Austria in their opener on Sunday they could outdo the previous best Croatian performance of a run to the quarter-finals.
“It (Eduardo's injury) is obviously a handicap,” said Bilic, who played through the pain barrier with a fractured hip when Croatia reached the 1998 World Cup semi-finals.
“One feels it at training and at matches. He is after all one of the best strikers in the world. Arsenal paid dearly when he was injured. But that doesn't change anything in terms of our target.
“We have a team and players that are capable of making up for his absence, whether individually or together.
“We can go a long way. We are not even thinking of the second match.
“We are only thinking of Austria. That will be our maxim: match after match. This match will be important for our confidence, especially for people like the Croats, who are people easily prone to euphoria or to descend into depression. But whatever the result, it will not be decisive,” added Bilic, who as a songwriter penned the lyrics for the Croatians' campaign song.
Bilic, who recently signed a two year extension to his present contract despite being courted by several high profile clubs, said he wasn't sure whether this present bunch of Croats were better than his generation.
“It's hard to say,” he replied.
“We had more experience. Not as a team, because we were a young country, but individually, with players who were accustomed to competing in the Champions League, and sometimes winning it.
“We were older. But in terms of spirit and talent the two teams are similar. We are hungry for victory.
“That said, even if the team is relatively young, it is not totally denuded of experience. It is a good balance.
“We have five or six players who are in their third major finals. (Dario) Simic is in his fifth. For certain of the guys, it will be their first but I don't think that will intimidate them.”
The other sides in Croatia and Austria's group are one of the favourites Germany and debutants Poland, who also play on Sunday.
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