Euro 2016

Bilic surprised at Trap 'joke'

Croatia boss says McClean could be a wildcard

Bilic unsure of Trapattoni's claims

Slaven Bilic: expects James McClean to be a wildcard player for Ireland this summer

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Croatia manager Slaven Bilic admits he was surprised with Giovanni Trapattoni's decision to name his probable Republic of Ireland starting XI for their Euro 2012 opener, suggesting it may have been a 'joke'.

Bilic watched the Republic play out a goalless draw in their final warm-up game ahead of the European Championship in Hungary on Monday, and claimed after the match that all four teams in Group C can qualify for the knockout stages.

Trapattoni's side meet Croatia in Poznan on Sunday, then face defending champions Spain followed by a potential group decider with Italy. They travel to Poland full of confidence having extended their unbeaten streak to 14 matches with the stalemate in Budapest.

Trapattoni sprung a major surprise by announcing his team for the Croatia game seven days before kick-off. Yet Bilic feels this could be a case of the 73-year-old employing some pre-tournament mind games.

"Maybe it's a surprise, maybe it's a joke," he told Sky Sports. "But we are going to find out the team one hour before the game! I don't know whether it's going to be Kevin Doyle or Shane Long, James McClean or someone else. All I know is that it's definitely going to be Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane!"

Bilic did not get a chance to witness first-hand the talents of winger McClean against Hungary, who was an unused substitute on the night, but he is no stranger to the Sunderland man's ability having watched him numerous times on television in Premier League.

He believes Trapattoni may even start the 23-year-old on Sunday, despite not featuring in the announced line-up.


"It wouldn't be a surprise for me if he plays because I watch the Premier League every week and he's shining for Sunderland. I definitely know McClean, so does (Cesare) Prandelli and so does (Vicente) Del Bosque.

"He gives you an option in a position where Ireland are already very good. Already there you've got Damian Duff - a great player - and Aiden McGeady who is also a great individual who can do something unpredictable."

When asked if he feels all four teams have a realistic chance of qualifying, Bilic said: "Definitely, yes. All those three teams are capable of giving Spain a good game, maybe even to beat them. Spain are the favourites, then on paper you have Italy, but that's only on paper.

"Then you have us and Ireland, but this is football and every week in football you are witnessing surprises. All four teams have a chance to get past the group stages."

Ireland had Shay Given and second-half substitute Keiren Westwood to thank against Hungary. Both made excellent saves either side of the interval to keep the hosts at bay. Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox, themselves brought into action from the bench in the closing stages, looked bright and gave Ireland a boost as impact substitutes.

On the overall performance of his Group C opponents, Bilic reflected: "We didn't see anything new from them. They are very hard to beat, it's almost impossible to create clear-cut chances against them.

"They can then become very dangerous in a split second with the two guys up front, whether that's Robbie Keane or Kevin Doyle; Simon Cox or Jonathan Walters. It's going to be very hard against them."

As for Croatia's injury worries, Bilic confirmed Luka Modric and Vedran Corluka, who both sat out last weekend's draw with Norway, will be fit to start against Ireland.