Croatia's preliminary 25-man World Cup squad arrived in Japan on Monday with playmaker Robert Prosinecki confident his side will be in great shape when the tournament begins.
However the midfielder, who said he is negotiating another contract with Portsmouth after a move to Japan fell through, claims Croatia cannot be counted among the favourites this year despite finishing third in 1998.
"It's always the same four or five names. For me, the favourites are Argentina, France, Brazil and Italy, with England, Portugal and Spain able to stage a surprise," the
33-year-old told the Jutarnji List newspaper.
He said the squad, which left for Japan after a week of training in the Austrian Alps, had other qualities to compensate for the loss of several key players who have retired since France 98.
"These new guys are feisty, have stamina, aggression and speed. We worked perfectly (last week) and will polish up the form and add tactical details in the next 10 days, and that should suffice," he said.
"Personally, I have rarely been in better shape."
The Croatia squad went straight to their training camp at Tokamachi, in Niigata, 125 miles north of Tokyo.
Head coach Mirko Jozic will name his 23-man squad on Tuesday.
Croatia play their opening game against Mexico on 3 June.