Bilić buoyed by Croatia spirit

Slaven Bilić was delighted with Croatia's "intelligence, courage and quality" after putting Friday's defeat by Greece behind them with a morale-boosting win over Latvia to reach the play-offs.

Croatia coach Slaven Bilić
Croatia coach Slaven Bilić ©Getty Images

Coach Slaven Bilić praised his players' "high quality and character" even if Croatia's 2-0 victory against Latvia on Tuesday was only enough to secure second place in Group F and a play-off place for UEFA EURO 2012.

Second-half strikes from Eduardo and Mario Mandžukić made sure of the points in Rijeka, but with Greece winning in Georgia the UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-finalists had to content themselves with the runners-up spot. Croatia had surrendered control of the section four days previously with a 2-0 loss in Athens, and Bilić took heart from how his side bounced back from that disappointment.

"I am very satisfied with how we played against Latvia," he said. "It shows we only had a bad day in Athens, though it cost us a direct place at UEFA EURO 2012. I would like to congratulate my players. They showed high quality and character. Although we dominated, it was a very tough match.

"This team has the intelligence, courage and quality to secure a place at UEFA EURO 2012. It is very important for Croatia to go to Ukraine and Poland and we deserve to be there. I would like to thank our supporters, because this is a big win for us. It restored the players' confidence in themselves and I hope it has done the same for our fans."

With Andris Vaņins in inspired form in goal for Latvia, Croatia had to wait until the 66th minute before Eduardo made the breakthrough, which was quickly followed by Mandžukić's header to make it 2-0 six minutes later. The result means Croatia can now look ahead to Thursday's play-off draw with confidence. "We showed we can play well," defender Josip Šimunić said. "We played without fear, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have two difficult matches in front of us."

Midfielder Luka Modrić, celebrating his 50th appearance for Croatia, concurred. "We never doubted our class," Modrić said. "In Greece a few days ago, we simply failed. Now our confidence is back. The last few days have been hard for us. We are disappointed about how we played in Athens, but against Latvia we showed much more. Now we have to focus on finishing the job."