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Croatia coach Stimac vows spectacle with Serbia
Published : 21 Mar 2013 17:17:10
Croatia coach Igor Stimac on Thursday promised a spectacular World Cup qualifier with former foe Serbia as the visiting team arrived in Zagreb under tight security measures.
"I expect a sporting spectacle," Stimac told reporters at his final press conference ahead of Friday's Group A qualifier at the Maksimir Stadium in the Croatian capital.
"Croatia are a better team, we are aware of that, but it does not mean anything. All outcomes are possible over the 90 minutes."
Meanwhile, the Serbian squad arrived at Zagreb airport and were taken to their hotel under tight police escort, with officers lining the route as a police helicopter flew overhead.
The two teams will meet for the first time as independent nations since Croatia's bloody war of independence from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Serbian fans have been banned from attending the Maksimir Stadium following an agreement between the two countries' football federations in a bid to avoid crowd trouble.
Police had earlier announced stricter border controls and on all transport routes into Zagreb in case any Serbian fans try to attend the game in what will be a sold-out stadium.
Police also threatened to halt the match if fans resort to anti-Serbian chanting.
With emotions running high, players and officials in both countries have repeatedly tried to ease tensions.
"I don't feel any tension among (Croatian) players, one can only feel a major match (to be played) ... I will not return to the past, for us it is a football match, this is how we are approaching it. The best team should win," Stimac stressed on Friday.
Croatia are second in Group A with 10 points, behind leaders Belgium on goal difference, while Serbia lie a distant third on four points.
The match, as well as the return fixture on September 6, will be closely monitored by UEFA, who have warned both countries' football federations about the need to tackle hooliganism.
Relations between Croatia and Serbia have gradually improved since the 1990s war, but sports events involving their teams still remain high-risk.
During the 1991-1995 war Croatia fought against Serbs who opposed its independence.