ENGLAND boss Fabio Capello yesterday laughed off Slaven Bilic’s attempt at playing mind games – instead thanking the Croatia boss for providing his with his team talk for tonight’s crunch World Cup qualifier.
Victory at Wembley tonight will ensure Capello’s men will qualify for South Africa next summer, possibly even at the expense of a Croatia side who knocked them out of the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Indeed, Bilic has done his best to stir up the mind games ahead of tonight’s tense encounter, insisting England have lost their “Englishness” under Capello.
But the Italian says Bilic’s comments have only motivated his squad even more. “Thank you Mr Bilic,” Capello said. “It is the best. I have no need to motivate my players after this. It’s fantastic assistance.” On describing how it will help his team-talk, Capello explained: “You have to remember what Bilic said.”
Capello then backed that up by warning Bilic his side were even better than when Theo Walcott’s hat-trick earned them a 4-1 win in Zagreb back in September. “In Croatia we played very well and won 4-1,” he added. “We played a lot of good games for qualification and won seven games, improving in every game.”
In contrast to his manager’s assessment of Bilic’s comments, captain John Terry insists his men should not get dragged into any pre-match hype.
“It is very important we don’t get sucked into any individual battles,” he said. “I think individually we’ve all got to win our battles and collectively.
“But at the same time we walk away and try and be mature about things and don’t try and get sucked into the things they will be trying to suck us into.
“Bilic is someone I respect as a player in England and as a manager but I don’t want to put any fuel on the fire and give anyone ammunition.”
Despite his good spirits, Capello was still giving nothing away on the main talking point of the big match build-up, on who will partner Wayne Rooney up front.
In-form Jermain Defoe has scored five goals in his last three internationals, but Capello is still expected to stick with Emile Heskey’s physical presence at Wembley tonight.
Asked who would partner Rooney, the Italian simply muttered: “More or less I have decided in my mind.”
Walcott misses tonight’s clash with a side strain, but the way he tore through the Croatian defence with his blistering pace back in September would suggest Capello may go with Aaron Lennon as his replacement on the right with Shaun Wright-Phillips and David Beckham also in contention.