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'I'm sorry for the Irish' says Bilic but admits says road open to quarter-finals

“Maybe the Irish were the better team in some moments, but I think that if you look, the overall impression is that we were the much better team.”

A Croatia fan runs on and kisses Croatia manager Slaven Bilic last night.
A Croatia fan runs on and kisses Croatia manager Slaven Bilic last night.
Image: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/Press Association Images

CROATIA COACH Slaven Bilic lauded his team for their 3-1 victory over Ireland, saying they had opened the road to the quarter-finals, though he conceded that going further at Euro 2012 could be tough.

“Tonight we showed that we can play,” Bilic said after the final whistle in a rain-swept Municipal Stadium in the western Polish city of Poznan, where Ireland and Croatia launched their Euro 2012 campaign.

“Maybe the Irish were the better team in some moments, but I think that if you look, the overall impression is that we were the much better team,” the former Croatia defender said.

“We are strong as a team, and I think that after this match we are getting even better and even stronger. I expect to play even better against Italy because the first match is the most difficult, and this is behind us.”

Bilic underlined that both teams had gone into the match fully aware that they had to perform.

“I’m sorry for the Irish. They were looking for a chance in this match. But it was the same for us,” he said.

Earlier, in the Baltic port of Gdansk, heavyweights Italy and Spain had drawn 1-1, meaning Croatia top the table.

“We have three points, and we’re top of the group,” said Bilic. ”One win would be enough to go to the quarter-finals. We cannot fly in the championship, but let’s go step by step. We respect all our opponents. We have no fear against anyone. Spain and Italy are favorites in our group, but I still think we are able to beat one of them.”

Wolfsburg’s Mario Mandzukic scored a double in the Ireland game, his first goal in the just third minute to make it 1-0 and the second after the break to take the score to 3-1.

“Mario’s a top class player. He’s playing at his top. Wolfsburg stayed in the Bundesliga thanks to him,” Bilic said of the 26-year-old striker, who was named man of the match.

Handing over the award, former Yugoslavia striker Predrag Mijatovic heaped praise on Mandzukovic.

“Just go on like this, I’m sure you can score more goals in this tournament,” he said.

Mandzukovic said the game had been tough. ”It was a hard match. We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said.

“We did our best and I think we deserved a victory. It was very important that we scored an early goal,” he added.

“It was not so easy on the pitch. They are really good fighters.”

Striking a personal note, he added: “My Dad asked me to score a goal with my head. I’m a really tall player and I like to have my chances.”

- © AFP, 2012

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