Croatia v Italy: Stadium ban no excuse, warns Kovac

Croatia and Italy will contest their UEFA Euro 2016 qualifier without fans at the Stadion Poljud in Split this week.

Croatia coach Niko Kovac says his side will not use their stadium ban as an excuse as they prepare to face Group H rivals Italy at Split's Stadion Poljud on Friday.

The UEFA Euro 2016 qualifier will be played behind closed doors after the Croatia Football Federation were hit with a sanction for alleged racist chanting during March's 5-1 win over Norway.

In the reverse fixture at San Siro in November, crowd disturbances also caused a lengthy delay before the sides played out a 1-1 draw.

While such incidents will not be repeated in an empty ground, it remains to be seen whether the hosts will be affected by the lack of atmosphere.

Italy's Claudio Marchisio suggested the absence of a vociferous home crowd could help his team-mates and, while Kovac admits he would settle for a point, the former international insists his side will look for maximum points. 

Two points separate leaders Croatia from Italy and Kovac, when asked whether he would take a point, told Sportske Novosti: "I would. However, we're going there to win.

"If in the end it is a draw we will take it with a smile. We will not use [the stadium ban] as an excuse, we will try everything to improve our game and in the end maybe we will take the three points.

"Without Luka [Modric] certainly will not be easy, but in the first game in Milan after a few bruises and injuries we have shown that we can still play well.

"If that's not possible then we'll drop deeper, be compact in order to win the ball and then try to break quickly."

Kovac has Vedran Corluka suspended for the clash and Modric (knee) injured, while opposite number Antonio Conte has doubts over Gianluigi Buffon (elbow) and Marco Verratti (calf).

Italy could slip out of the top two if they fail to win and Norway beat Azerbaijan, although Leonardo Bonucci called for calmness from his team-mates in the build-up to Friday's match.

The Juventus defender also suggested the clash would serve as an ideal opportunity to banish the disappointment of his side's UEFA Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.

"We will focus on Croatia and Portugal to forget the defeat in Berlin," he told reporters.

"Conte told me to think only on the Croatia game and I’m doing that. These two games will give us the chance to forget as soon as possible the final played in Berlin. 

"The table is showing that we are a step behind Croatia: they have some quality players but thanks to our tactical knowledge we can still make it a great game. 

"We must play with calmness and pass the ball well. We have to defend with 11 men and attack with 11.  Modric will not play but they also have [Mario] Mandzukic, a modern forward, who never gives up."

"We are working well. When Conte takes a role, he is there until the end. I do not think that leaving the national team is in his mind. That’s why we feel relaxed. You always have enthusiasm in the national team."