ROME (AP) – Croatia will be heading into the European Championship with one of the continent's most in-form strikers.
Although Nikica Jelavic has yet to firmly establish himself in the starting lineup, his impact at English club Everton since his arrival at the end of the January has been electrifying.
In Poland and Ukraine, Jelavic could play a key role when Croatia kicks off its Euro 2012 campaign against Ireland in Poznan on June 10.
''He has been a regular member of our squad for three years now,'' Bilic said. ''He is a very important player for us and I am expecting big things from him at this summer's Euros.''
Jelavic's arrival at Everton from Scottish club Rangers has added clear bite to the team's attack. The 26-year-old striker is the club's top scorer with 10 goals even though he's only been there for a little more than three months.
For April, he was given the Player of the Month Award after scoring six goals in three Premier League matches.
''We are playing some great football and we are creating chances, which for a center forward is obviously very important,'' Jelavic said after receiving the honor.
Jelavic is the first Croatian to win the award, even though some of the country's best players have played in the Premier League, including Davor Suker and Luka Modric.
Jelavic began his career at Hadjuk Split in 2002, spending five years there before moving on to Belgian club Zulte Waregem and Austrian team Rapid Vienna. In 2010, he signed for Rangers, where he played a central role in landing the league title last season with 30 goals in 45 appearances.
His good form has even drawn praise Suker, the former Croatia forward who scored a record 45 goals in 69 appearances for his country and won the Golden Boot for the most goals scored at the 1998 World Cup in France.
''He is really enjoying the Premier League,'' Suker said. ''I hope that will help Croatia in this summer's European Championship.''
Jelavic has scored only two goals for his country in 18 appearances since his debut in October 2009. His impact then, though, was immediate, coming off the bench to score his first international goal and give Croatia a 3-2 win over Qatar in the final minutes.
Most of his appearances since have been as a substitute, including in both legs of the playoff win over Turkey
''Sometimes you need to not rush your career,'' Suker said. ''You need to lay good preparations and now can move on to the main goal of his career.''