Bilic says Ireland poses no big threat for Croatia

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POZNAN, Poland (AP) -Croatia coach Slaven Bilic knows everything about Ireland, saying his Group C opponent in the European Championship plays simple football and isn't a top team.

Bilic has big respect for Ireland's coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, but is confident Croatia will claim all three points on Sunday in Poznan before tougher challenges from Italy and Spain.

"I know everything about them, their football is very simple, so objectively (Ireland is) not a heavy team to analyze," Bilic said Saturday. "They are not a top team."

The match allows him to pit his wits against the 73-year-old Trapattoni, who has won club titles in some of Europe's toughest leagues. Bilic, 30 years his junior, is confident he has done his homework. He doubts that Trapattoni will change the way Ireland plays, which is based around a solid defense and hitting teams on the break. This approach has helped Ireland to qualify for its first international tournament in 10 years.

"Maybe they could surprise us ... but they play just in one way so I don't know if they can," Bilic said.

By contrast, Bilic says he has a "Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C if necessary" to deal with Ireland's defense, which has conceded only three goals in an unbeaten 14 goals. The two teams ground out a scoreless draw in a friendly last August.

Trapattoni has taken the unusual step of naming his starting lineup days before the fixture. Bilic said he won't change his tried and tested approach of telling the players who will start until an hour before kickoff.

"It doesn't mean anything to me, it's just a small psychological game," Bilic said.

Bilic has impressed in his six years in charge of Croatia. The team has been in the top 10 of FIFA's ranking through his time at the helm and narrowly failed to make it to the semifinal of Euro 2008. After the tournament, he leaves to take charge at Lokomotiv Moscow.

Nonetheless, his experience pales in comparison with that of Trapattoni, which includes titles in Italy, Germany, Austria and Portugal, and a European Cup win with Juventus in 1985.

That track record means Bilic remains respectful of his counterpart.

"Trapattoni is a big coach, he's Mr. Calcio," Bilic said, referring to the Italian word for football. "He's still the man. I'm fascinated and I can only respect these coaches with huge experiences and say the best thing about them."

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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