Wayne Rooney’s growing reputation will earn him special attention when England face Croatia later tonight, with Croat coach Otto Baric actively encouraging his players to provoke the 18-year-old striker.
Croatia must beat England to secure a place in the last eight of Euro 2004, while a draw will take England though.
“I believe we have a way to stop him,” said Baric.
“Rooney collects yellow cards, and let’s hope a red one.”
Goalkeeper Joey Didiluca admitted that his team would be out to provoke Rooney.
“The manager has told us to prey on Rooney’s weaknesses,” said the Austria Vienna goalkeeper.
“Our defenders are under orders to slide in and try to take him a few times. Then, just you see, we will get the reaction we want. No problems.
“As far as we are concerned, all is fair in love, war and football. You have to use every little tactic you can. It’s not a dirty tactic – it’s just a tactic that is there. He’s young and he’s shown he can’t deal with it. So let’s see what happens.”
“I think Rooney has been playing above himself but hopefully for this game he’ll come back down to earth,” added Didulica.
“He’s definitely a good player and he’s aggressive, but that is maybe to our advantage. He’s young and impulsive, and hopefully for us something could pop in his head, like with his studs up to the Swiss goalkeeper.
“To me that was a red card. Even if he just caught him a little bit the intention was there and the studs were up. That just goes to show he’s not quite there yet. After his booking he then had 10 minutes when he was charging around even more fired up and he made another tackle that could have brought him another booking.
“He’s not like [Zinedine] Zidane – a player like him just wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t be so fired up that he would be committing those tackles and risking a red card.”
But despite the pressure on Rooney and the nagging fear that he is too easily provoked, England coach Sven Goran Eriksson insisted there was no question of leaving out the Everton striker.
“As a manager, I can’t think about leaving him out and hoping we win the game anyway,” said Eriksson.
“He has to play against Croatia, and that’s it.”