Irish in the firing line, insists Bilic


Soccer:Croatia manager Slaven Bilic ‘feels for’ the Republic of Ireland ahead of their Euro 2012 opener in Poznan, Poland, on June 10th. The Croatia manager, who confirmed the championship will be his swansong as national coach after six years in charge, said the first game of Group C is a must-win and Ireland represent the easiest target in group.

"This is my last tournament, said the 43-year-old when naming his squad today. “After this, I shall certainly no longer be the national coach. But before that, we must focus on the big job that's coming up.

"With all due respect I feel for them, we want to start the tournament with three points. They are our chance," Bilic said. He added Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni was sticking to tried and tested players and no surprises were likely.

"They are tough, strong, well-organised and defend very well,” said the former Everton and West Ham defender. “They only surprise could be if Trapattoni made them more offensive. But that would only make us happier.”

Bilic has dropped veteran international strikers Mladen Petric and Ivan Klasnic from the squad ahead of next months finals.

"It was hard to leave them out but it's part of the job," he told a news conference on Thursday. "They are quality players who have done a lot for our side. Unfortunately, they are strikers, the one part of our team where we have the best options so there was simply no room for them."

Klasnic, 32, who underwent a kidney transplant in 2007, had a disappointing season at Bolton wanderers, while Petric, 31, was also plagued by injuries and poor form at German side Hamburg.

Bilic may pair in-form Everton striker Nikica Jelavic and Wolfsburg's Mario Mandzukic up front.

Two other stalwarts, Bayern Munich's Ivica Olic and Brazilian-born Eduardo of Shakhtar Donetsk, have not played regularly this season.

Preliminary Croatia squad

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Hajduk Split), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb); Goran Blazevic (Hajduk Split)

Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Tottenham), Sime Vrsaljko (Dinamo Zagreb), Dejan Lovren (Olympique Lyon), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi), Daniel Pranjic (Bayern Munich)

Midfielders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Tomislav Dujmovic (Dynamo Moscow), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburger).

Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo Da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Nikola Kalinic (Dnipro), Ivica Olic (Bayern)