Macedonia 2 Croatia 0: We cannot afford to sit back for a draw at Wembley, insists Bilic

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The Independent Online

The Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic, has accepted his side cannot afford to play for a draw when they face England at Wembley in their final Euro 2008 qualifier.

England require only a point on Wednesday to secure their passage to Austria and Switzerland next year and Croatia have already qualified, but the former West Ham defender said: "Nobody is favourite when they play away against England so we would be happy for a point. But you can't play for a draw," Bilic said.

"We are coming to Wembley to play a serious game. We are going to play our normal game and we are going to try to keep the English players far from our goal but that is easy to say."

His side lost their unbeaten qualifying record after slipping to a 2-0 defeat against Macedonia on a waterlogged pitch at the Gradski Stadium on Saturday night. The home side thoroughly deserved their victory after controlling the game for large periods and eventually got their reward with second-half goals from Goran Maznov and Ilco Naumoski after their positive tactics and persistence paid off in the 71st minute through Maznov.

The 26-year-old forward played a neat one-two with his strike partner, Naumoski, before he lashed the ball in to the bottom-right-hand corner of the net from just inside the penalty area.

Srecko Katanec's side doubled their advantage in the 79th minute when Naumoski turned from provider to goalscorer. The 24-year-old broke clear of the Croatia defence and stroked the ball past Stipe Pletikosa and into the corner of the net. Croatia briefly rallied and Dario Simic struck a powerful shot from distance in the dying stages but Macedonia held on to claim a well-deserved victory.

Bilic was not too downhearted, saying: "I don't hold any grudge against my players. In fact, I congratulate them on their effort, considering the pitch conditions."

But the defender Vedran Corluka admitted Croatia had allowed themselves to relax in the second half after learning of Russia's defeat.

"Macedonia earned the victory and we must congratulate them. We owe our fans a much better game at Wembley next week," the 21-year-old said.

Macedonia (4-4-2): Milosevski; Noveski, Mitreski, Popov, Sedloski (Grncarov, 88); Lazarevski, Tasevski, Grozdanovski, Sumulikoski; Maznov, Naumoski (Polozani, 78).

Croatia (4-4-2): Pletikosa; Simic, Simunic, R Kovac, Corluka; N Kovac, Srna, Modric, Kranjcar (Vukojevic, 75); Petric (Mandzukic, 42), Eduardo (Olic, 54).

Referee: F de Bleeckere (Belgium).

Booked: MacedoniaTasevski, Naumoski.

Man of the match: Naumoski.

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