Croatia highlight teenager as their biggest threat

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The Independent Football

The Croats had less time than most yesterday to get a good look at Wayne Rooney. It was not because England's next opponents were preparing for their game against France, it was because their hotel lost its electricity.

The Croats had less time than most yesterday to get a good look at Wayne Rooney. It was not because England's next opponents were preparing for their game against France, it was because their hotel lost its electricity.

But, despite being deprived of a full view of the danger that the Everton striker poses, in the aftermath of the Balkan state's exciting and deserved 2-2 draw with France, Robert Kovac had seen enough to be impressed.

The Croatia and Bayern Munich defender, 30, instantly pinpointed Rooney as the biggest threat to his country's chances of progressing to the knock-out stages of a tournament for the first time since they finished third in the World Cup in France after losing to Les Bleus in the semi-finals.

"We only saw some of the England game against Switzerland because of a power cut after 50 minutes," he said, before adding: "Rooney is fast and has great technique. He has a great future. There is no pressure on him. All the pressure is on Beckham which means the rest of the team can play. Rooney plays with heart and is England's most dangerous player because of his goals." But, naturally, Kovac's thoughts turned to how Croatia could beat England in Lisbon on Monday night.

After leading France for 14 minutes in Leiria, he feels they have every chance of the win they need to put them in the quarter-finals. They would only be looking for a draw in two days' time had Ivica Mornar's last-minute dragback and shot, more worthy of Zinedine Zidane than of someone who finished last season on Portsmouth's bench, gone in rather than brushed over the crossbar from five yards.

"We must play like we did against France and then we have a chance. Why can't we beat England?" said Kovac. "No-one believed we could do what we did against France and get a draw so I think we have a good chance."

Not that his disgruntled team-mate Ivan Plasnic shares his view. The Werder Bremen striker has yet to feature and did not increase his chances of doing so when he declared the opposite to Kovac. He said: "I will be going on holiday on Tuesday. We won't win the way England have been playing."

For a game and a half, starting with their uninspiring opener against Switzerland, Croatia looked the group makeweights Plasnic thinks they are.

Dado Prso's goals helped Monaco reach the Champions' League final last month, but the striker offered little, while Mornar was dropped after starting the Swiss game. From midfield, they look to Milan Rapaic, who plays for Ancona, the worst team by a distance in Italy's Serie A this season.

But, after half-time against France, when they were trailing to Igor Tudor's own goal, they became more than the sum of their parts. As Kovac explains: "We did not play well against Switzerland because it was two teams fighting. But France played the ball and then we had a chance to use our fighting skills. When we win the ball we can play it more and that is what we will do against England."

He hinted that Otto Baric's side will not rush at England and pump high balls in for Prso, although a high-tempo approach suited them in the second half on Wednesday. He explained: "Baric just said to keep going against France because we didn't give them a chance except for their free-kick in the first half. Long balls are not the tactic against England because they are good in the air.

"Against France we played it on the ground and did well, so we have a good chance like that.

"Also, Baric didn't say we had to win. We already had a point so we knew we had to beat England to go through whatever happened. Of the last two games, the one to win was never France, but England.

"On Monday we have 90 minutes to score. First we must control the game and then put the pressure on."

Croatia's comeback started when Rapaic showed David Beckham how to take a penalty. That put them on level terms and their momentum saw Prso give them the lead. Only another mistake by Tudor, with a short back-pass, allowed France's David Trezeguet to score.

Prso said: "Yes, we can beat England. We got a draw with France and now we want to go on to the next round. We will do everything possible to [win]."

Prso is heading to Scotland next season to play for Rangers. He will make some friends pretty quickly in Glasgow if possible becomes fact on Monday.

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