WARKA, Poland (AP) – Put on a special training program, Croatia's star midfielder Luka Modric has recovered from an exhausting season with Tottenham and is ready to lead his country's challenge for the European Championship, coach Slaven Bilic said on Thursday.
In the run-up to Euro 2012, Bilic conceded that Modric was jaded and that he needed to be refreshed. Joining the rest of the squad late and being given a lighter training program have helped recharge his batteries and he's 100 percent fit, the coach said.
Bilic, who is quitting his job at the end of the tournament after six years in charge, needs Modric to be at the top of his game if Croatia is going to get out of one of the toughest groups, let alone bid for the top prize.
Modric's form dipped towards the end of a season which ended in disappointment. Tottenham had been fighting for a spot in the Champions League but was denied the opportunity after Chelsea won the competition by beating Bayern Munich in the final.
''He played every game when he was available, he was a bit tired,'' Bilic said. ''He's ready to play his role, which is very important for us.''
Much of Croatia's play hinges on the performance of the 26-year-old Modric. He pulls the strings for the team with his defense-splitting passes, tireless running and vision. Other players look to him to launch them forward and he shone at Euro 2008, when Croatia suffered the cruelest of defeats to Turkey in the quarter-finals.
Having won all three of their group games four years ago, including a defeat of eventual finalist Germany, Croatia was leading with one minute of extra time to play. Turkey equalized with the last kick of the game, and went on to win the ensuing penalty shootout. Modric was one of three Croatians to miss a penalty.
In 2012, Modric is setting the bar high, even though Croatia has been grouped with the last two world champions, Italy and Spain.
''If we can pass the group ..... I think we can go all the way to the end,'' said Modric, who is widely expected to leave Tottenham after the tournament following its failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Modric refused to comment on transfer speculation which has linked him with Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Niko Kranjcar, who is poised to leave Tottenham after the tournament to join Dynamo Kiev, said the team is stronger mentally, as well as physically, than four years.
''We both believe we are at the peak of our careers,'' said Kranjcar.
There would be no repeat of Turkey's last gasp equalizer, Kranjcar insisted. Instead of trying to keep possession, he said the ball ''will go into the stands in the 88th row.''
One player who's not going to experience Euro 2012 is midfielder Ivo Ilicevic after an injury to his left calf muscle.
Bilic said UEFA has given Croatia permission to replace the Hamburg midfielder with 20-year-old Sime Vrsaljko.
Ilicevic's injury came during training Wednesday and the expectation at the time was that it was only a minor strain. But Bilic said doctors in Warsaw ruled the 25-year-old Ilicevic out of Euro 2012.
Croatia plays its first game in Group C on Sunday against Ireland in Poznan.