ZAGREB (AFP) - Fabio Capello owes his position as the world's best paid coach to Croatia, but England's Italian manager would be unwise to anticipate any further favours from Slaven Bilic and his squad here on Wednesday.
Having masterminded home and away victories over England in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008, Bilic played a central role in ensuring Wayne Rooney and co. were missing from the finals, thus creating the vacancy that Capello filled at the start of this year.
The reputation of his predecessor, Steve McClaren, never recovered from the 2-0 defeat England suffered here two years ago.
That match will always be associated with the comical 'air kick' by goalkeeper Paul Robinson which ensured that Gary Neville's passback trundled into the net to gift Croatia their opening goal.
Less well remembered is the fact that McClaren had sent his side out in an experimental 3-5-2 formation which only exacerbated the technical superiority of their hosts, who were far from flattered by the final scoreline, as their 3-2 victory at Wembley last year proved.
A repeat of the tactical ineptitude that marked England's last visit to the Croatian capital seems unlikely with Capello in charge.
But the Italian has yet to prove that he can inspire a significant improvement in the collective performance of what is the essentially the same group of players that failed to live up to their billing under McClaren.
In contrast, the Croatians confirmed their quality at Euro 2008 -- where they were unfortunate to go out in the quarter-finals on penalties after Turkey's last-gasp equaliser -- and the feel of their 3-0 cruise against Kazakhstan in their opening qualifier on Saturday was significantly removed from the scrambled nature of England's 2-0 win over Andorra at the weekend.
All of which has helped to put Bilic in bullish mood as he contemplates a fixture that could further enhance his reputation as one of the most in-demand young coaches in world football.
"There is no reason to suspect that we will now fall down, our ball is rolling forward," he said. "We expect a great game on Wednesday. Against Kazakhstan we played as we planned, the only question was if our supremacy on the field showed on the scoreline."
Bilic has been linked to the managerial vacancy at West Ham and while some members of Croatia's football hierarchy have muttered about the speculation being intended to destabilise the squad, the manager himself has been revelling in the additional attention.
"It is great that I'm linked to the club from the best league in the world but it doesn't make my work with the national team harder," he said.
"In training we always make jokes. Players tease me to take them to England as well. The interest of West Ham is proof that we are doing a great job with the national team."
Croatia are without long-term absentee Eduardo, the Arsenal striker, and will also have to do without injured Portsmouth midfielder Niko Kranjcar on Wednesday evening.
But they go into the game boasting a proud record of never having lost a competitive match at home since Croatia emerged from the disintegration of Yugoslavia at the start of the 1990's.
Ending a run that has now reached 35 matches would represent a significant achievement for Capello and his captain, John Terry, believes it is one within England's grasp.
"We've got unfinished business with Croatia," Terry said. "This is a new campaign and we are going there to pick up three points. We know it's going to be tough again but, hopefully, they will come at us a bit more than Andorra did and we have to try and rise to the challenge of going back to a ground where we have bad memories."
Terry is expected to have Rio Ferdinand back alongside him in central defence after the Manchester United defender's recovery from a neck problem which ruled him out of the Andorra match.
That will mean Joleon Lescott making way but Capello has given few clues as to whether he will promote Joe Cole, scorer of both goals against Andorra after coming on as a second-half substitute, to a starting role.
Capello must also decide whether to persevere with 19-year-old Theo Walcott on the right flank or opt for the greater experience of David Beckham, and whether Emile Heskey's power should be deployed in a solo striker role for a match in which a draw would be regarded as a good result for the visitors.
|PSG´s powers of recovery impress Cavani|
|Howe ´absolutely committed´ to Bournemouth amid England links|
|Man City proved character against Celtic, says Zabaleta|
|Walcott: Sanchez partnership bodes well for Arsenal´s season|
|MLS Review: DC, Impact on track for play-offs|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Tigres, Dallas left waiting|
|Central Sanchez pleases Wenger|
|Barca felt Messi absence - Busquets|
|Martino knew Messi would come out of retirement|
|Shilton never convinced by Allardyce|
|Degenek replaced by Giannou for Socceroos|
|Griezmann will still take penalties - Simeone|
|Simeone proud of ´one of the best´ wins|
|Godin suffers sprained ankle ligament|
|West Ham receive positive news over injured duo|
|Robson: Four wins for Southgate and he´s an England contender|
|Sarri: Late goals leave bitter taste|
|Gunes rues Besiktas´ inability to see off Dynamo|
|Borussia Monchengladbach were exceptional against Barcelona, feels Schubert|
|PSG must be patient, says Emery|
|Celtic are lucky to have Dembele - Rodgers|
|I´m completely focused on Arsenal, insists Wenger amid England talk|
|Hasselbaink denies wrongdoing amid impropriety allegations|
|Ancelotti frustrated by slow, toothless Bayern|
|Barcelona deserved their win - Luis Enrique|
|I want Celtic atmosphere at City – Guardiola|
|Rebrov defends Yarmolenko after ´difficult´ match|
|Rostov draw is two points dropped for PSV, says De Jong|
|Torres eyeing ´magical´ year for Atletico|
|Celtic 3 Manchester City 3: Dembele at the double in six-goal thriller|
|Celtic 3 Manchester City 3: Dembele at the double in six-goal thriller|
|Rostov 2 PSV 2: Propper´s penalty miss costs visitors|
|Besiktas 1 Dynamo Kiev 1: Tsygankov stuns wasteful Turks|
|Napoli 4 Benfica 2: Mertens bags two as Napoli run riot|
|Arsenal 2 Basel 0: Walcott´s capital gains tax Swiss visitors|
|Borussia Monchengladbach 1 Barcelona 2: Pique grabs the winner|
|Atletico Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Carrasco gives Ancelotti first taste of defeat|
|Ludogorets 1 Paris Saint-Germain 3: Cavani inspires comeback win|
|Premier League, FA and EFL to investigate transfer allegations|
|Vardy reveals matchday energy drink and port routine|
|Everton coping without Stones, says Jagielka|
|Sacked Jemez admits to ´great sadness´ at Granada exit after worst start in over 70 years|
|Wenger has so much to offer English football - Schmeichel|
|No truth to England rumours, says Klinsmann|
|Spalletti demands end to damaging Roma ´games´|
|De Boer: Brozovic was punished and forgiven|
|Allardyce paid price for lack of privacy - McClaren|
|Milik can match Lewandowski - Reina|
|LMA ´extremely concerned´ about manager bribe allegations|
|Iwobi: I nearly left Arsenal|
|Mata has found a ´natural habitat´ at United|
|Higuain slowly approaching top form|
|´Stupid´ Allardyce driven by money - Dyke|
|Wijnaldum vows to improve|
|Renato Sanches needs time at Bayern - Hitzfeld|
|Ibrahimovic nurturing United talent - Lingard|
|Mourinho feels sorry for Allardyce|
|United boss primed for ´must-win´ Europa League tie|
|Mourinho keen to protect under-fire Rooney|
|Jeonbuk Motors 4 Seoul 1: Leonardo brace puts hosts in the driving seat|
|Maloney returns to Scotland squad|
|Van Persie: Kids will decide my future|
|Entrapment won on this occasion - Allardyce|
|Ibra-Rashford pairing the answer for United - Neville|
|Tevez hints at imminent retirement|
|England in safe hands with Southgate - Glenn|
|Holman talks up A-League quality|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Red Bulls progress, Timbers win|
|Januzaj blow for Sunderland|
|Navas accepts blame for Dortmund equaliser|
|Sporting assistant Raul Jose pleased with win|
|Nuno left to regret slow start as Porto fail on English soil again|
|Vardy rejected Arsenal due to style|
|Simeone: I am not Griezmann´s mentor|
|Schmidt bemoans ´brutal´ Monaco equaliser|
|Ranieri doesn´t trust bookies over England job|
|Genesio worried wastefulness will cost Lyon in long run|
|Preud´homme admits Champions League too much for Club Brugge|
|Telegraph passes findings to FA after further corruption claims|
|Zidane: Draw difficult to accept|
|Pochettino delighted with in-form Son|
|Vietto undeterred by wasteful showing|
|Tuchel: Dortmund can still get better|
|Resilient Leicester display pleases Morgan|
|Glenn reflects on ´painful´ call to dismiss ´distraught´ Allardyce|
|Borussia Dortmund 2 Real Madrid 2: Late Schurrle strike salvages draw|
|Monaco 1 Bayer Leverkusen 1: Glik stunner snatches a point|
|Dinamo Zagreb 0 Juventus 4: Pjanic pilots comfortable victory|
|CSKA Moscow 0 Tottenham 1: In-form Son hits late winner|
|Copenhagen 4 Club Brugge 0: Delaney stunner helps Danish champions canter to victory|
|Sporting CP 2 Legia Warsaw 0: Magiera´s first game ends in defeat|
|Sevilla 1 Lyon 0: Ben Yedder seals win for Europa League holders|
|Leicester City 1 Porto 0: Slimani continues to haunt old foes|
|Shearer: Allardyce has made England a laughing stock|
|Howe, Pardew and Wenger among the contenders to succeed Allardyce|
|Emery´s PSG struggles give Ludogorets hope|
|Allardyce offers ´wholehearted apology´ for England shame|
|Lahm: ´Extraordinary´ Griezmann different to Lewandowski|
|Iniesta is the best in the world, claims Menotti|
|Irregular heartbeat ends Dempsey´s season|
|Bournemouth ´realistic´ over permanent deal for Wilshere|
|Guardiola warns against complacency|
|Allardyce and England part company after damning video|
|De Bruyne out for up to three weeks - Guardiola|
|Luis Enrique demands fast start at Gladbach|
|Ancelotti wary of Atletico threat|
|Al Ain 3 El Jaish 1: Caio capitalises on late error|
|Ter Stegen happy with solution to Bravo battle|
|Emery: PSG need time to gel|
|Hernandez: It was very difficult at Real Madrid|
|Derby stand down Pearson ahead of Cardiff match|
|Rodgers sympathises with ´poor guy´ Allardyce|
|Opponents are trying to get Ribery send off - Hoeness|
|Martino named Atlanta United head coach|
|Rodgers urges Celtic to have belief against City|
|Rodgers has made same impact as Guardiola - Brown|
|Benfica one of the best in Europe, warns Sarri|
|Menotti: Ronaldo never played in a team like Messi´s|
|Walcott happy to move on from Arsenal struggles|
|Champions League Matchday Two: Bayern hunt Atleti revenge|
|Coquelin facing three weeks out|
|Arsenal transfers beyond reproach, says Wenger|
|Schubert extends Gladbach contract|
|Lewandowski urges Bayern to learn from Atletico defeat|
|Griezmann feared Simeone to PSG was ´a done deal´|
|FA investigating Allardyce claims|
|Valencia keep Voro in charge for Atletico clash|
|One of Serie A´s all-time greats: The numbers behind Totti at 40|
|Toure brands FIFA ´complacent´ after racism taskforce closed|
|Emery expects Ronaldo to stay at Real Madrid|
|Tottenham not scared of Moscow trip - Alderweireld|
|Sessegnon signs with Montpellier|
|Rakitic delighted with form|
|Gameiro: I could have joined Barcelona|
|Stones talks up Celtic quality|
|Liverpool good enough to win title - Houllier|
|Klopp happy with Firmino in central role|
|Watford got bullied all over the pitch - Deeney|
|Nuno keen for Porto to end England misery|
|Legia boss Magiera set for whirlwind debut|
|´Terrific´ Burnley delight Dyche|