Bilic ready to do battle with the generals
SLAVEN BILIC has suggested that the other teams in Group C are playing for second place after landing defending European Championship and World Cup holders Spain.
The former West Ham defender is the youngest boss in a group packed with experienced managers and he is the most forthright with his views.
Bilic believes that Group B -- with Holland, Denmark, Germany and Portugal -- is a stronger collection of teams. And, while he paid his respects to Ireland, he did point out that the Croats were much the better side in a 0-0 friendly draw in Dublin in August.
He said he is happy to be playing Spain last and has indicated that his preparation will be focused around the showdown with Ireland on June 10.
"I would say that Spain are the favourites for the whole tournament," said Bilic. "Italy, Croatia and Ireland have equal chances to be the second team," he said.
"The game in Dublin was a friendly, but a good game. We dominated, but it's going to be totally different, and I respect them. I know the players and some of them are my friends, but we have a chance.
"With Trapattoni and the other two managers, I'm privileged to be among the generals of football, among people who created the history of the game. I can't wait to play against them. I have strong belief in my players."
Italian coach Cesare Prandelli stressed beforehand that he wanted to avoid Trapattoni, his friend and mentor. Prandelli was a midfielder at Juventus when the Irish boss was in charge.
"I don't want to play against my maestro. He is my teacher. Almost everything I've learned in football, I learned from him," said Prandelli. "I like to speak with him, to learn from him, to eat with him -- and not to play against him. For this reason, I really did not want to be drawn against Ireland.
"I don't know who will be the worst opponent between Croatia and Ireland. It will depend on the physical shape in June. I know that Trapattoni will try to get the best results until the end."
Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque has no problem if Trapattoni sends out his Irish team to nullify his superstar selection. He is used to it.
"Each has their own style and has the right to play their own way," he said. "A manager must choose the best way to play with the players he can choose from. It's a strong national team. We must think they are as worthy a rival as the others. But we're not going to change our style because we have the players we have.
Can Ireland cause a shock, he was asked? "Of course," he replied. "They will be well prepared and you can't say there will be an inferior rival because this isn't the case.
"It's a tough group. I can't say it's easier or more difficult than what we wanted. We can't be arrogant."