Croatia defender Vedran Corluka dismissed the possibility that his side and Spain would play for a 2-2 draw on Monday to guarantee their passage to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
Following their 1-1 draw with Italy and Spain’s 4-0 trouncing of the Republic of Ireland, the pair are joint top of Euro 2012 Group C with four points.
Italy are two points behind, but if they win their final match against Ireland and the other game ends in a draw, three teams would finish on five points.
Qualification would then be decided by their head-to-head meetings.
Italy have drawn both their games so far 1-1, so a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia would give them both more goals than Italy and would see the Azzurri eliminated.
It was exactly the same case eight years ago in Portugal, when Sweden and Denmark played out a 2-2 draw that ensured they both progressed and Italy crashed out.
Some in the Italian press claimed the two Nordic teams fixed the result and have been speculating that it could happen again, but Corluka said Italy are in no position to be casting aspersions given the Calcioscommesse betting and match-fixing scandal happening in their own country.
“Who has a betting scandal in their country?” asked Corluka when the hypothesis of a 2-2 draw was put to him.
Croatia coach Slaven Blic was not even considering such a possibility and simply believes that the draw with Italy has given his side a good chance of reaching the last eight.
“Four points is great. Before this match, I would have been really satisfied with four points [at this stage],” he said. “No one in the whole nation was expecting this, we still have a really good chance to progress and that’s a great success.”
Italy struggled physically and their condition noticeably dropped in the final 20 minutes of the game as Croatia came on strong.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli spoke of their need to improve their physical condition, but Bilic said his side’s problem is believing they can beat the continent’s traditional powerhouses.
“We have different problems to Italy. Mentally, we’re not as strong as Germany or Italy, so we need to improve our mental preparation, but we’re working on this and you can see the result, we’re ready for Spain,” Bilic said.
Croatia midfielder Luka Modric said it was not just his side’s superior physical condition that had helped them, he said Prandelli’s decision to take off Mario Balotelli had worked against Italy.
“When Balotelli went off we had a lot less problems,” Modric said. “He was putting pressure on our defense physically, we all knew he’s a great striker, very powerful, who can hurt defenses. He kept pushing up and caused us a lot of problems. From our side, in the second half we pushed up more and we kept believing we could win. This draw is a good result.”