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Croats confident of German scalp

For Germany, Thursday's Group B game with Croatia in Klagenfurt is not just about qualifying for the quarter-finals, it is about proving they are serious contenders for their first title since 1996.
By Kevin Fylan | Reuters, Tenero (switzerland)
UPDATED ON JUN 11, 2008 10:30 PM IST

For Germany, Thursday's Group B game with Croatia in Klagenfurt is not just about qualifying for the quarter-finals, it is about proving they are serious contenders for their first title since 1996.

"We'll see what our status is after the Croatia game," captain Michael Ballack said at a news conference on Tuesday. "We know we're going to have to raise our game to beat them."

Germany, three times European champions, beat Poland 2-0 in their opening match but they see Croatia, who overcame co-hosts Austria 1-0 in their first game, as a much more important scalp.

"They have high ambitions in this tournament -- they beat England twice in qualifying -- and I think they'll play a much more offensive game than Poland did," Ballack said.

If Germany do improve from the Poland game they should be too strong for a Croatia side who did not look overly impressive in their first win over the unfancied Austrians.

Germany coach Joachim Loew has 23 fit players and his only real dilemma is whether to include Bastian Schweinsteiger from the start or again keep him up his sleeve for the second half.

"We have a lot of potential up front," Ballack said. "It's going to be a tough decision for the coach."

While Germany have never lost against Poland, they have mixed memories of playing Croatia in major tournaments.

Germany beat the Croatians 2-1 in the last eight on their way to winning Euro 96 in England but suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat by them in the World Cup quarter-finals two years later.

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, who played in both those games, was confident midfielder Luka Modric would recover from an ankle injury to boost their hopes of a place in the last eight.

"This is a chance to move a step closer to the knockout stage and we will have a real go at them because we can match them in every department," Bilic told a news conference."

The Croatia coach is likely to introduce one or two changes to the team that scraped past Austria.

"We will show no fear against Germany and if we play our best football I think we have a good chance of beating them," said forward Ivan Rakitic, who could start instead of out-of-form striker Mladen Petric.

"That means we will have to play a lot better than we did against Austria, though."

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