Sunday 18 February 2018

Kalinic called into Croatian squad

David Kelly

David Kelly

Blackburn Rovers' controversial former striker Nikola Kalinic will replace Ivica Olic in the Croatian squad after the Wolfsburg-bound player was ruled out with a thigh problem picked up in last weekend's 1-1 draw with Norway.

Ireland open their Group C campaign against Slaven Bilic's side in Poznan on Sunday.

Croatian doctors had earlier predicted Olic would be able to play some part but Bilic has been forced to turn to Kalinic, one of the first of the relegated Rovers squad to publicly fall out with Steve Kean.

Bilic has only four strikers in his squad, with Kalinic joining Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg) and Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk).

Jelavic and Mandzukic are likely to start up front on Sunday despite the fact Da Silva heralded a confident return from injury with a goal against Norway, after which he predicted that a "more creative and playful" Croatia would be witnessed in Poznan.

Italy have also been rocked by an injury blow that sees Andrea Barzagli almost certain not to play in the tournament unless tjhe Azzurri reach the knockout stages.

Angelo Ogbonna, who had an outstanding season for Torino last season which saw them promoted to Serie A, is in line to replace Juventus defender Barzagli.

Should Barzagli be ruled out for the tournament then manager Cesare Prandelli, keen to deploy three central defenders in each group match, is likely to call up Inter Milan's Andrea Ranocchia.

Spain were once again confronted by the familiar sight of a packed defence when former Spanish manager Jose Antonico Camacho's China restricted the damage to an 84th-minute David Silva goal in their weekend friendly.

"Everyone is going to try and play Spain the way we did, with a regimented defence and looking to play on the counter-attack," noted Camacho, Spain boss between 1998 and 2002. "If we'd had another rival in front of us we probably would not have lost, but Spain has infinite alternatives.

"If one player goes off, another who is just as good comes on, and furthermore he has fresh legs. When you put together players as good as these it is impossible to predict what they are going to do."

Vicente del Bosque, was less than enthused, criticising his troops for a "sluggish" display. "We were slower than usual, they left us little space and we were sluggish."

Irish Independent

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