Saturday 24 March 2018

Bilic talks up Jelavic threat as Italy sweat over Pirlo

Midfielder Ivo Ilicevic is a doubt for Sunday's Poznan clash against Ireland after a morning knock forced him to sit out the afternoon training session yesterday.

"It was a knock in the calf and it's in a painful spot, but it's not a serious injury," said coach Slaven Bilic yesterday lunchtime. "He will miss this afternoon's training session or he will be working on his own, but I hope he will be ready for Sunday's match. However, we can't be sure about that."

Everton striker Nikica Jelavic is certain to start against Ireland after the loss of Ivica Olic through injury.

"His impact at Everton this season was so strong and so sudden that it was quite unbelievable,'' Bilic said. "He is one of our biggest assets, especially now that we've lost Olic.''

Bilic added that his side can adapt should they be frustrated by Ireland.

"We have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C if necessary,'' he said. "I have big respect for Irish team, they are very good, very impressive. My respect can't be bigger.''

Reflecting the different nature of the Group C combatants' build-up, both Croatia and Spain underwent double training sessions yesterday -- Italy held their sole session late last evening.


Jesus Navas had a scan on his hand after a training-ground collision, but no bone damage was sustained and he only has bruising to cope with, as coach Vincente del Bosque continues to assess the fitness of Fernando Llorente, Javi Martinez and Pedro Rodriguez.

Full-back Alvaro Arbeloa is desperate to avoid a second successive opening-day defeat in major tournaments, even if the loss to Switzerland in 2010 failed to stop Spain annexing the World Cup title.

"Nobody wants to start a big tournament with a defeat," he said, anxious to avoid a defeat that could offer Ireland hope of causing a major upset when the pair meet next week.

"It leaves you with no margin for error, it affects confidence and it means qualification becomes difficult."


playmaker Andrea Pirlo failed to complete training yesterday, emerging from the dressing-room a la Shay Given wearing just runners, although the Italians later revealed that they didn't want to risk aggravating a "tight muscle".

Manager Cesare Prandelli will decide tomorrow whether to officially call up Cagliari defender Davide Astori as a potential replacement, after they receive the results of a scan on Andrea Barzagli, who is struggling with a calf injury. Inter Milan defender Andrea Ranocchia was not considered as he suffered an injury last week.

Right-back Christian Maggio is struggling with a tight hamstring. Mario Balotelli had a similar problem on Monday but returned on Tuesday night, delighting more than 13,000 locals with a hat-trick in the Azzurri's practice match at their Krakow base.

Irish Independent

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