Croatian Team Confident but Wary With Israel's Back Against the Wall

Croatia national team coach Slaven Bilic said yesterday he expects a difficult match against Israel. "It's Israel's last opportunity, and with its back against the wall, it's always a dangerous opponent."

He said he's studying the new players Kashtan called up to the Israel squad, and it won't be a simple game. Bilic promised reporters he would announce the full Croatia squad Friday afternoon, more than 24 hours before kickoff.

Croatia plans to start this Saturday with strikers Eduardo da Silva and Ivica Olic. Da Silva, who scored a hat trick in Croatia's match against Israel in Ramat Gan, returned to practice on a regular basis, and Bilic decided to open with him, even if he won't be able to play 90 full minutes.

"I am in shape and am glad to play," Da Silva said yesterday. "That I scored three goals in Ramat Gan doesn't say anything about the game at home. It's not important who scored. The point is that we win and we ensure a spot at Euro 2008."

Assistant coach Robert Prosinecki stressed that Croatia must beat a team like Israel in any situation. Midfielder Luka Modric repeated the same mantra: "We must win especially in light of the fact that we're playing at home. Israel isn't aggressive enough."

The Croatian press this week published a story, not coincidentally perhaps, of Msutafa Jiha, a 19-year old Palestinian in the Sabra refugee camp of Beirut, who is a diehard Croatia soccer fan. "I always want Croatia to win, especially when it plays Israel," Jiha told the Vacernji List daily.