Beenhakker offers mother-in-law of all battles

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The Independent Football

Slaven Bilic does have a sense of humour, but does not necessarily strike you as a man who wants to trade mother-in-law jokes, especially not during the serious business of a tournament that he believes his nation can win.

Even though Croatia have qualified for the last eight of Euro 2008, and even though Bilic is set to rest virtually all his first-choice players, especially as five are on yellow cards, he quickly dismissed a quip by Leo Beenhakker, the Poland coach yesterday. "Maybe I can call my old friend Slaven Bilic and ask him to play his mother-in-law as a striker against Poland," Beenhakker said. Bilic's reply? "Well, I'm divorced," before adding of the Poles: "They have a chance and they have a team, so he doesn't need my mother-in-law."

Beenhakker is perhaps right to be fatalistic. Austria's controversial last-gasp equaliser against them on Thursday means that their chances of progressing are slim. A victory, and it needs to be a convincing one at that, against the Croats may not be enough. Asked whether his team are capable of winning by the three or four goals they need, the Dutchman said simply: "I don't know."

Beenhakker has also talked about ringing the changes, but scanning his squad list, and in the absence of the injured Jakub Blaszczykowski and Maciej Zurawski, his options are sorely limited, especially as striker Ebuzebiusz Smolarek has disappointed.

Bilic will shuffle his pack with ease and the story for Croatia will be the selection of veteran Dario Simic to win his 99th cap and captain the side, and the expected return of Ivan Klasnic after the 28-year-old striker recovered from a kidney transplant last year.

"We are going to field the strongest team possible, but we are not going to take risks," Bilic said. "I have no fear that they will embarrass us. I believe in this team, like I believe all 23 players in the squad."

That belief is shared, especially as Bilic has built the kind of "club" mentality and spirit within the Croatia squad that is so admired – and envied – by other coaches, including England's Fabio Capello, who spoke about it last week.

The Croat left-back Danijel Pranjic said: "Bilic is very important to us. He was a player for a long time and he knows everything about football. He's more like a colleague – there are periods when he's a coach and periods when he's a friend, though he hasn't played guitar for us yet. Maybe before the quarter-finals."

Croatia (probable, 4-4-2): Pletikosa (Spartak Moscow); Corluka (Manchester City), Knezevic (Livorno), Simic (Milan), Pranjic (Heerenveen); Leko (Monaco), Pokrivac (Monaco), Vukojevic (Dynamo Zagreb), Rakitic (Schalke); Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Klasnic (Werder Bremen).

Poland (probable 4-2-3-1): Boruc (Celtic); Wasilewski (Anderlecht), Jop (FC Moscow), Bak (Austria Vienna), Zewlakow (Olympiakos); Dudka (Wisla Krakow), Lewandowski (Shakhtar Donetsk); Krzynowek (Wolfsburg), Saganowski (Southampton), Guerreiro (Legia Warsaw); Smolarek (Racing Santander).

Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).

Misses next game if booked: Croatia Leko; Poland Wasilewski, Bak, Lewandowski, Krzynowek, Smolarek.

Poland v Croatia. Today, 19.45, Klagenfurt, BBC3