Gdansk, June 17
Croatia boss Slaven Bilic says his players will need to play "the games of their lives" against defending European champions Spain on Monday with top spot in Group C up for grabs at Euro 2012.
Croatia have the unenviable task of trying to halt the rampaging Roja, who hammered Ireland 4-0 at Arena Gdansk on Thursday with Fernando Torres scoring twice as the world champions hit top gear.
A shock win over Spain will see Croatia qualify for the quarter-finals as group winners, while a draw could be enough depending on whether Italy beat Ireland in Poznan, Poland.
For Spain, the task is straight-forward: a draw means qualification and a win ensures first place.
Spanish confidence is high after their star-studded forwards battered the Irish using their 66 percent of ball possession to produce 26 shots on goal, 20 of which were on target, and underdogs Croatia have their work cut out.
Bilic has admitted his players will need to produce something special to make the champions dance to Croatia’s tune, but his team showed plenty of pluck to hold Italy on Thursday in Poznan.
"What I can say is that we will need to play the best game of our lives," Bilic said.
"We drew 1-1 against Italy, one of the best teams in the world.
"We are still in a realistic position to go through and we have a chance. We need to remain confident.
"Spain will enjoy more possession, but they won’t control the ball the whole time and we’ll also have chances. I hope luck will be on our side too," added the 43-year-old, who steps down after the tournament to take over at Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow.
A cloud hangs over the Croats as UEFA have threatened stiff penalties and is taking action over racist chanting against Italy’s Mario Balotelli in Croatia’s 1-1 draw with the Azzurri last Thursday.
UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body will announce its decision on Tuesday over what the organisation said was "the setting-off and throwing of fireworks, and the improper conduct of supporters (racist chants, racist symbols)".
The Croatian Football Federation has said it "strongly condemns" all deviant behaviour by fans and has appealed to UEFA not to punish the team.
The team have refused to comment on the matter.
With two goals in Croatia’s 3-1 win over Ireland and the equaliser against Italy, unwanted Wolfsburg striker Mario Mandzukic is the tournaments’ joint top-scorer while defender Ivan Strinic also impressed against the Italians.
But the 24-year-old can expect a busy evening trying to contain Spain’s stars whose coach Vicente del Bosque admitted he has a hard time leaving out top names who "don’t even know where the bench is".
Having left Barcelona star Cesc Fabregas on the bench and started Chelsea’s Fernando Torres, both players ended up scoring against Ireland as Torres netted twice before making way for Fabregas - who also scored their goal in the opening 1-1 draw with Italy.
"We’re on our way to qualifying, we need one more point against Croatia and our minds are now on that game," said Torres.
"I know the team we have here, we are playing in the best team in the world, we won the World Cup and Euro 2008, and anyone can play."
David Silva is in top form having set up both Torres goals, then scored one of his own agaisnt Ireland leading Del Bosque to describe the 26-year-old as the "Messi of the Roja," so highly does he rate his creative flair.
Barcelona midfield general Xavi Hernandez said a common desire to play good football makes this team a "great" Spanish side.
"Our philosophy is not negotiable," said the 32-year-old.
"We play good football, we don’t give the ball away, we’re able to open up the pitch, and you saw a great Spain (against Ireland).
"Now it is in our own hands and a win against Croatia would take us through."