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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 20, 2007

Wembley pitch could hinder England - Bilic

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic tonight warned the 'icy' Wembley pitch could ruin England's chances of qualifying for Euro 2008.

The Croatians trained at the £757million venue for just over an hour this evening ahead of tomorrow's crucial Group E qualifier.

Only half of the pitch was used, with heat lamps in place to try to help battle against the continuing wet conditions.

However, as the rain fell during the session, the top surface cut up in places.

The turf had taken a severe battering during last month's controversial NFL American Football match. Despite the best efforts of Wembley groundstaff, the signs of wear and tear were clear for all to see.

Former West Ham and Everton defender Bilic believes the surface was likely to play a factor, even though his men faced much worse against Macedonia in Skopje on Saturday.

'The pitch here is not good, it is not the condition which Wembley used to have and is known for,' the Croatia manager declared.

'Three weeks ago there was an NFL game and the pitch it not good.

'It is not good for us, but it is definitely no good for England, because they like to pass the ball as well.

'The stadium and this game tomorrow really deserves a better pitch.

'The top looks soft, but underneath it is hard, it is very slippery, like ice.

'We will see what happens tomorrow, but tonight we were running well, although sometimes you have problems when you try to stop the ball, which my players do not usually have.'

Wembley maintain all efforts have been made to ensure a decent playing surface.

A spokesman for Wembley Stadium said: 'Our ground staff have been working round-the-clock on the pitch since the NFL match to ensure that the playing surface is in the best possible condition for England's game against Croatia on Wednesday.'

Portsmouth midfielder Niko Kranjcar was one of those who trained tonight. He quipped: 'It is not the best pitch - but after Macedonia, it can only be better.

'It is still not the Wembley pitch that I think everyone is used to, only because of the American football match.

'But it is a good enough pitch to play good football.'

England need only a draw to qualify for next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, following Israel's shock win over Russia at the weekend.

Indeed, should Steve McClaren's men win 2-0 or better, then they would go through as group winners.

Bilic reflected: 'We have been top of the group since we beat England in Zagreb, but that is not the most important thing as we will be going to the European Championships.

'Whether it will be first or second does not matter. It will be nice, but that is not our biggest motivation.

'I told the players that we have already started our preparation for Euro 2008, and we could not imagine a better test than against England.

'I know the strengths of my team and the game tomorrow will give us a real idea of just how much quality we have at the moment.'

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