ZAGREB (AFP) - Slaven Bilic has raised the stakes ahead of Croatia's World Cup qualifier with England by claiming his squad are a match or better than Fabio Capello's collection of big names in every area of the pitch.
Bilic is aiming to complete a hat-trick of wins over the English after engineering home and away victories in the qualifiers for Euro 2008, defeats which cost England a place at the finals and Steve McClaren his job.
On the eve of the two countries' third meeting in 23 months, former Everton and West Ham defender Bilic - whose stock rose even more at Euro 2008 when his side came within a penalty shootout of reaching the semi-finals as they lost to Turkey - admitted he was feeling the pressure of raised expectations.
But he also insisted his side had earned the right to be regarded as favourites for a match that could prove hugely influential in how the battle for qualification from group six develops.
"England is a squad in which there are individuals who can resolve any match with one move," Bilic said. "These are the players who have been dominating the Champions League for a decade."
But the Croatian coach, who has recently been linked with managerial vacancies at English Premiership clubs Newcastle and West Ham, was quick to temper his professed admiration for his opponents with a reminder of the qualities of his own side.
"If we praise them, it does not mean that we are afraid," he said. "We're not inferior in any area and we'll go for a victory."
"In such matches there are no favorites but if one has to be chosen than it is really us, by our form, game and results.
"Croatia played better (in their opening qualifier) against Kazakhstan than England against Andorra. Croatia was more convincing against Slovenia than England against the Czech Republic (a 2-2 draw in a friendly).
"On both sides the players are more or less the same and we have won in both matches in previous qualifiers.
"They are stronger than two years ago when we beat them in Zagreb but we are also stronger and better. Not only compared with the game in Zagreb but also with the one at Wembley when we were also celebrating.
"There will be periods when we dominate but also times when they are on top, I'm expected an open battle, a balanced clash of two top teams."
England's 2-0 defeat here in October 2006 was the result of a combination of a horrendous mistake by goalkeeper Paul Robinson and a tactical blunder by McClaren, who sent his side out in an experimental 3-5-2 formation with disastrous results.
Bilic acknowledged that a coach of Capello's vast experience was unlikely to make a similar misjudgement.
"Capello is Capello," he said. "He is the top, but it does not mean that we do not sleep due to him. Capello is not the one who is playing."
|Semedo, Deulofeu left out of Barcelona trip to Girona|
|Conte urges Morata to show Costa aggression|
|Guardiola hopes Aguero breaks City record at home|
|Lille 0 Monaco 4: Falcao hits double as champions romp to win|
|Bayern Munich 2 Wolfsburg 2: Ulreich howler sparks shock comeback|
|De Biasi takes charge of Deportivo Alaves|
|Srna vows to clear ´name and reputation´ following doping claims|
|Neymar to miss PSG´s Montpellier clash|
|Costa can win many Atletico trophies, says ex-Chelsea striker Shevchenko|
|From Maradona to Messi – Barcelona celebrate 60 years at Camp Nou|
|Shakespeare remaining upbeat over Silva saga|
|Alex Sandro replaces Marcelo in Brazil squad|
|Returning Costa scared of Atletico fitness plans|
|Benevento captain Lucioni fails doping test|
|Stoke could have one fit centre-back for Chelsea game - Hughes|
|Valverde dismisses Real Madrid ´crisis´ talk|
|Bakayoko fit after car accident and Hazard ready to start, says Chelsea boss Conte|
|Rummenigge calls for transfer window to close on July 31 across Europe|
|Nigel Pearson appointed by Belgian side OH Leuven|
|UEFA inspector to examine disrupted clash between Arsenal and Cologne|
|Mourinho misses out as Allegri, Conte and Zidane battle for Best FIFA Coach of the Year|
|Conte encouraged by Musonda and Kenedy progress|
|Costa lands in Madrid ahead of Atletico return|
|Guardiola endorses Mourinho´s EFL Cup scepticism|
|Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo headline FIFA Best shortlist|
|Conte thanks Costa after Chelsea exit agreed|
|Zidane will not ´go crazy´ despite Real Madrid slump|
|Aubameyang is very happy here, Bosz assures Dortmund fans|
|Madrid confirm Marcelo hamstring tear|
|I hope he doesn´t score! - Zizou wary of Enzo threat|
|Major players help teams grow - Simeone happy with selection headaches after Costa move|
|Allegri has faith in misfiring Higuain ahead of Turin derby|
|PSG must prove big-club credentials after spending spree - Draxler|
|Not preventing Neymar´s Barca departure a ´bad decision´ - Rakitic|
|Shanghai Shenhua slam ´misleading´ French media over Tevez interview|
|There´s no bitterness – Costa ´cool´ with Conte as Atleti return nears|
|Copa Libertadores Review: River put eight past Wilstermann, Lanus through|
|Ronaldo: I´ll get fit if Real Madrid need me|
|Man United and City have put pressure on Liverpool – Klopp|
|Aubameyang: China talks were a disaster|
|Dembele returns to Barcelona after hamstring surgery|
|EFL set to follow Premier League in transfer window change|
|Howedes a doubt for Juve derby clash|
|It will go well for Dembele at Barca - Aubameyang|
|Abraham denies talk of switch to Nigeria|
|Defensive worries for bullish Klopp as Liverpool eye Leicester revenge|
|Aubameyang: I no longer dream of Real Madrid|
|52 passes, 11 players, one goal, no West Brom touches - Manchester City´s Guardiola masterclass exam|
|Gundogan set for swift Manchester City return|
|Costa´s Atletico return: Griezmann primed to shine alongside Atleti´s prodigal son|
|Time to move on from controversial chant, says Lukaku|
|Costa´s Atletico return: Torres, Aguero, Falcao and Griezmann and the Rojiblancos´ history of fine f|
|Costa´s Atletico return: Bonucci v Allegri, Beckham v Ferguson and more famous player-manager bust-u|
|Kane will stay a long time, regardless of winning trophies - Pochettino|
|I´ll decide who is first choice - Emery putting foot down over Cavani-Neymar penalty spat|
|Costa´s Atletico return: Henry, Tevez, Rooney and other players who went back|
|No celebrations for Barry unless West Brom take something from Arsenal|
|Benzema wants to retire at Real Madrid|
|Atletico Madrid agree Costa deal with Chelsea|
|Only Messi´s dad has signed the contract - Benedito disputes Bartomeu claim|
|Klopp backs Oxlade-Chamberlain and Liverpool to bounce back|
|China won´t compete even in 50 years - Tevez blasts level of Chinese football|
|Record revenues over £580m for Manchester United|
|Ancelotti defends Bayern fitness coach after Neuer injury|
|Burnley sign Lindegaard following Heaton injury|
|Injured Liverpool star Lallana steps up training|
|Juventus can´t stop Dybala leaving, admits Marotta|
|Mertens shrugs off Maradona comparisons after Napoli wondergoal|
|Ramos alarmed by Real Madrid´s ´f****** bad start´ in LaLiga|
|Wenger denies punishing Sanchez with lack of playing time|
|Athletic´s Yeray overcomes cancer for a second time|
|Wenger wanted Barry at Arsenal before Manchester City move|
|Mourinho: Scrapping EFL Cup could help English clubs in Europe|
|Neymar left Barcelona because of Messi – Mathieu|
|Dembele drops hint of early Barcelona return|
|Copa Libertadores Review: Nine-man Barcelona reach semis, Gremio also advance|
|Neville: Rashford as good as Mbappe and Dembele|
|MLS Review: Montreal win derby, Atlanta put four past Galaxy|
|Madrid can overturn deficit as captain Ramos remains calm|
|Neymar wouldn´t have treated Messi like he did Cavani – Forlan|
|Zidane not worried after Madrid lose ground on Barca|
|Casemiro calls for Madrid calm after shock Betis loss|
|Sane sends message to Guardiola as Manchester City shake off West Brom|
|Keep calm and carry on – Allegri backs Higuain to rediscover scoring touch|
|Bosz proud of table-topping Dortmund after Hamburg triumph|
|Montella points to schedule after uninspired Milan win|
|Conte confirms Luiz will be fit to face Atletico|
|Manchester City boss Guardiola hopeful Gundogan injury not serious|
|Real Madrid 0 Real Betis 1: Ronaldo´s return ruined as Sanabria stuns LaLiga champions|
|Wilshere is ready for the league - Wenger|