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Bilic relieved as 'general' Corluka cleared for duty

CROATIA coach Slaven Bilic breathed a huge sigh of relief on hearing that defender Vedran Corluka had been given the all-clear by doctors to play against Ireland tomorrow.

Corluka, regarded as Croatia's best defender, complained of an injury to his left hamstring at training on Thursday, but doctors in Warsaw cleared him to play against Trapattoni's Ireland tomorrow.

"They've done a scan this morning, and the scan showed, thank God, nothing, no rupture ... so we are expecting him to play on Sunday," Bilic said. "It is a relief because Corluka is one of our generals, like a senator, and he's the leader of the defence and he's one of the most important players for us."

Croatia's hopes for the tournament are largely built around its attacking potential with playmaker Luka Modric and striker Nikica Jelavic.

By contrast, the defence is seen as slightly shaky. Players like Domagoj Vida and Ivan Strinic have yet to prove themselves on the big stage, while Josip Simunic, at 34, has started to show signs of wear and tear.

Though he's a proven tournament player and just a handful of caps away from making his 100th appearance for Croatia, Simunic may not even make the starting line-up tomorrow.


That's why Corluka's availability is so important for a team that faces one of the toughest groups at Euro 2012, with games against Spain and Italy to follow.

The 26-year-old, who has been on loan at Bayer Leverkusen from Tottenham, can play anywhere along the back line. He prefers playing right back, a position that allows him to link up with Darijo Srna, Croatia's captain, and with Modric as he drifts back to engineer an attack.

His all-clear from doctors was also a welcome change of news on the injury front, with Croatia having lost striker Ivica Olic and midfielder Ivo Ilicevic since last weekend.

Bilic denied that the Ireland game was make-or-break for his team.

"Nothing will be decided after the first game," he said.

"Still everything is going to be open after the game.

"We've proved in history, and they've proved in history as well, we can beat those big guns as well."