“We have done our homework. We went to see The Pogues in concert in Zagreb. They are very popular, a world-class band.”
Bilic, of course, has a player who reaches that kind of elite level in his own squad: Luka Modric. And there’s a lot of noise being made about him at the moment. The Croatia manager, however, was unwilling to indulge the speculation about another Chelsea bid for the Tottenham playmaker. Rather, he merely said he had offered Modric some private advice.
“Of course I spoke to Luka. I speak with him like with most of the players. Every few days. He is good in his head. It’s between us, of course, but I’m sure [tonight] he’s going to concentrate on football.”
As Bilic all but confirmed, Modric is likely to feature in a Croatian team that is as strong as possible. With Croatia currently second behind Greece in Euro 2012 Group F, the manager views Ireland as ideal opposition to prepare for their remaining crunch games.
“It is going to be our strongest possible XI. This is our first game since the beginning of June, our only game until we play Malta and Israel — two crucial games for us. The same team will play as if we were playing Ireland in a qualification game. Of course we will try not to be slaves to the result but it is also important for us, for the atmosphere back home, for the atmosphere amongst the group and everything. It is a good test for us because we have never won here. We drew twice and we lost twice.
“I played once [in 1996], but it was an equal game, 2-2. It is a hard place to come and to grab a point, the same as going to Croatia. No one is favourite here except the Irish.
“I personally have a big respect for your team. I watched the last five games of Ireland when I was preparing and in every one of them they were good. That’s why this will be a real qualification game to be honest.
“I mean, in history, the Irish team have always been a good passionate team — solid, aggressive. But Trapattoni has turned them into an extremely well-organised side. That is why the last results are not a surprise for me. He has done a great job here.”
Interestingly, Bilic also dismissed the idea that Trapattoni plays a 4-4-2 that’s outdated in international football.
“He is switching to 4-5-1 when defending. It is pretty much the same. For me, the systems are dying in the sense of lines. You have movement of 10 players on the pitch. I wouldn’t call [Ireland] rigid. I’d call them very compact and the 4-4-2 system is the basis. For me it is a great system. With the right players, of course.”