Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said he respects Italy striker Mario Balotelli, ahead of his side's Euro 2012 clash with the Italians.Cesare Prandelli's men took the lead against Spain in their opening game with Juventus man Andrea Pirlo providing the assist for Antonio Di Natale, before going on to draw with the reigning Euro champions.

Front man Balotelli had missed an easy chance earlier in the stalemate, but Bilic said the controversial striker will prove a threat to his side, while adding that Pirlo is vital to Italy's winning chances in the Group C encounter.

"Balotelli is top class player, and I have a lot of respect for what he does on the pitch," Bilic told reporters.

"At times he is a genius, but also has his own philosophy on behaviour.

"That said, we have to press Pirlo, Italy's most important player, though I have yet to decide how. He can decide the outcome of matches alone.

"(But) Modric is at least on the same level as Pirlo, in my opinion."

Croatia beat the Republic of Ireland 3-1 in their tournament opener, and Bilic is confident that his men are up to the task of springing a surprise against their more illustrious opponents on Thursday.

"Italy will be a different challenge to Ireland, I'm sure about it. They are a specific team, especially in the midfield, and have their own way of playing," he said.

"Our performance in the win against Ireland made me happy. We are now more experienced, and the heart of the team is there. This will be a precious commodity against rivals like Italy."

Italy and Croatia will face off at Poznan's Stadion Miejski.