Bilic: Pirlo is Italy's most important player, but Modric is just as good

The soon-to-be Lokomotiv Moscow boss believes that the Juventus regista will be the Azzurri's main danger man, and also discussed the pros and cons of Mario Balotelli
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has no doubts over the quality of Andrea Pirlo, but stated that Luka Modric is his equal.

The Azzurri took the lead against Spain in their opening Group C game thanks to a fine assist from the Juventus man, but only after Mario Balotelli had missed a sitter.

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And while a debate has raged about whether the Manchester City striker should start the next match, Bilic remains a fan, and went on to heap praise on Pirlo.

"Balotelli is top class player, and I have a lot of respect for what he does on the pitch," he told a press conference. "At times he is a genius, but also has his own philosophy on behaviour.

"That said, we have to press Pirlo, Italy's most important player, though I have yet to decide how. He can decide the outcome of matches alone.

"[But] Modric is at least on the same level as Pirlo, in my opinion."

Croatia beat Republic of Ireland in their tournament opener, and Bilic is confident that his men are up to the task of springing a surprise against their more illustrious opponents on Thursday.

"Italy will be a different challenge to Ireland, I'm sure about it. They are a specific team, especially in the midfield, and have their own way of playing.

"Our performance in the win against Ireland made me happy. We are now more experienced, and the heart of the team is there. This will be a precious commodity against rivals like Italy.

Modric had already been lauded by Croatia legend Zvonimir Boban as Croatia's absolute star.