By Luke Matthews
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic is expecting a gruelling match when his side take on Ireland at Euro 2012 next month.
Bilic's outfit square off against the Boys in Green on June 10 in Poznan and the scoreless draw between the sides last August in Dublin showed Bilic, first hand, Ireland's modus operandi.
"We played them last year," he said. "We had a lot of chances and possession but it ended 0-0. They then played Slovakia recently, a good team, and it was 0-0 again. Then in Russia, 0-0.
"When you play against this Ireland side, there is a one per cent chance of a one-on-one with the keeper. You don't get the chance to create many chances and they are dangerous without having much of the ball."
Bilic, 43, also hailed Ireland's core of veteran players. Aston Villa duo Shay Given and Richard Dunne came in for particular praise while the coach also feared the breakaway threat posed by Ireland's attacking unit.
"The thing with Ireland is that they have a spine. Given is a great keeper, Dunne is a top, top player. Less so in the centre of the field but then they have top players like Keane, Duff and McGeady."
He added that the captain and scorer of 53 international goals, Robbie Keane, was Giovanni Trapattoni's ace in the pack and hailed the 31-year-old's leadership credentials.
"If you have to pick just one then you have to say Robbie Keane. He drops in the hole, he's very clever and a great player in general.
"Keane is not only quality, he's a leader, he's the one. He seemed to lose confidence after rejoining Spurs from Liverpool and wasn't able to get into the team but now it seems like he has had a revival in the MLS."
Ireland's legendary travelling support will be on hand in Poznan to cheer their team in a tough group which also contains Spain and Italy. The most realistic chance Ireland stand of landing the full three points comes in their opening tie against Croatia and Bilic anticipates a rousing occasion.
"I can see it now. There is going to be more than 100,000 Irish going mad during that first game, unbelievable. The pressure is on."
For a full version of Luke's interview with Slaven Bilic, in which the Croatia coach weighs up the proposition of facing Spain and Italy, click here.
Our special thanks to Moj Split and the Split Tourism Board for making this interview possible