Slaven Bilic: We know smaller teams can win – and I fancy our chances

The Croatia coach joins The Independent today, and in his first column says he is confident his team can meet the rising expectations of his country and bring home the trophy

Let's be honest: the gap in football is getting smaller. The gap between the big football nations and the so-called smaller nations is closing and at this European Championship is smaller than ever. It is what makes this tournament more exciting than ever and it is what gives hope to every team, my Croatia side included.

If you go back 20 years in European football then there were certain teams you could bet your life were going to win games. They were the big nations and they are still very good now. I'm talking about the likes of Germany, Italy and France. But now football is changing, it is not so easy for these teams to dominate matches. Football has so many emerging nations that the old order can never be so sure that they will win games.

Are there any easy matches in European football anymore? People say that games against teams like San Marino and Andorra are easy. But hang on a minute, even Andorra managed to make it to half-time at 0-0 against you English in that Euro qualifier in Barcelona last year.

The way I look at it is like this: if Germany or France were to play 20 games against teams like Turkey or Switzerland the bigger countries would win the majority of the games. But they would not win them all. And this is what we have over the next three weeks, one-off matches in which there is a difference in class and ability. But not such a big gulf that it cannot be overcome in one game. Greece have shown us the way in Euro 2004.

That is why this tournament is so difficult to predict. I have read that this is Spain's time to come alive. That the Netherlands have a chance. Greece are the defending champions. You only have to look at the preliminary groups that these teams came through to know that every team that made it through has done a great job to reach Euro 2008.

At this stage it is important to try to channel the pressure the players feel in the right way and keep the mood around the training camp positive. And before you ask, no, I haven't performed my Euro 2008 song to the players. My band Rawbau got together with a few friends a couple of months ago and we recorded "Vatreno Ludilo", a song about supporting the Croatia team. The media in Croatia have billed it as the team's official song. It's not the official song. I wrote it and recorded it with the band because I wanted to do something for the fans and we have been giving away copies of it free with newspapers in Croatia. I'm on guitar by the way.

Rather than music, I've tried to keep the players calm by doing the same things we would before any game. They are bright guys, they realise the significance of being at Euro 2008 and they know that the expectation in Croatia is huge. Back home, people believe that we can win this tournament. We have kept training schedules the same and we haven't overloaded the players with lots more information. We have just kept it simple.

You Tottenham supporters watching our games are in for a treat. I have complete faith in Luka Modric, he is a world-class player. Let's just say he is a top, top, top footballer and any manager in this competition would want him in his team. He can make a great impact for Croatia and I'm sure he will do the same for Spurs next season.

I have heard all the arguments about our striker situation but I am very happy with the players we have. Of course we miss [injured Arsenal striker] Eduardo da Silva. There are very few players like him in football today but we have had to cope without him for a while. My team can cope but there is no point pretending otherwise: we are less dangerous without him. And it's not just scoring goals. In open play he can hold the ball up as we build attacks. He is even important defensively.

We play tomorrow against the hosts Austria in Vienna and of course that won't be an easy game even if – with respect to our opponents – I believe that we have the better team on paper. I know they have been waiting for this moment for years but we are going to give everything to start with a win.

There are few surprises in modern football when it comes to players. With the coverage of European football through television, the internet and the availability of DVDs of every match that is played, you never come up against players you have never heard of at this level. Put it this way, everybody knows how Manchester United play. It just happens to be the case that not everyone is good enough to stop them. It will be the same at this tournament: we know the qualities of our opposition, but can we stop them.

Am I nervous? Of course I am a little nervous but then so is everyone. I reckon even Guus Hiddink is a little nervous because it is not every day you coach a team in the European Championship. But I am not afraid. I feel ready, I feel calm and I feel motivated. And I can't wait to make the people of Croatia happy.

Slaven Bilic is a Unicef ambassador. The fee for this column has been donated to charity.

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations should be regarded as an offensive act
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
people
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices