Bilic banks on Jelavic as he plots one last hurrah

 

poznan

No deals will be on offer from Croatia in Poznan today – and none was even tentatively mentioned by the visitors one famously wet night at Wembley in 2007, lest Davor Suker's remarks be misunderstood. But the country's all-time leading goalscorer did express surprise that no England player came forward with a pragmatic suggestion when, with Peter Crouch's chest-and-volley goal midway through the second half, an equality was established that would have seen both sides safely through to the European finals that summer.

It was on a flight home from Vienna at the end of Euro 2008 that I found myself with Suker and the talk turned to England's absence. He shook his head and smiled. "Our players were amazed that no England player came forward at that crucial stage,'' he said. Nor was there a signal from Steve McClaren with his brolly in the technical area. Maybe it was just not the English way to take part in a 25-minute charade. At any rate, having recovered from a two-goal deficit, they kept piling forward and on the break conceded the goal that cost McClaren his job.

Slaven Bilic, meanwhile, acquired heroic status. Once an international team-mate of Suker's as Croatia rode a post-independence wave to footballing success – albeit hardly admired outside his native land after the histrionics that contributed to Laurent Blanc's suspension from a World Cup final on French soil – Bilic had taken over from Zlatko Kranjcar in 2006. Twin victories over England during qualification helped to make him one of the most noted young coaches in Europe, sought by English clubs, among others, yet loyal enough to his compatriots to stay put on a mere £75,000 a year.

Reciprocal respect was accorded when Bilic's Croatia fared less well on the road to the World Cup in South Africa, losing 4-1 in Zagreb to Fabio Capello's England and 5-1 in the London return. The Croatian FA kept him on. Indeed they increased his salary to something that a manager in, say, the Championship might find more acceptable. Bilic claims never to have considered stepping down. At least not until qualification for Euro 2012 had been secured. ''I didn't want to leave as a loser,'' he said. But after the tournament he will join Lokomotiv Moscow.

While the club game will keep him busier and more prosperous, it will never capture his heart like the national cause – and, when he says that you believe him, because Croatians can be proud to a fault. Bilic never apologised for events that day in Paris when, having been pushed by Blanc, he fell holding a forehead that had not been touched and rose only after the defender now in charge of the French national team had been shown the red card. But Bilic did own up to cheating and testified that even this had involved Croatia's renowned teamwork: the advice to make a meal of it had apparently come from his fellow centre-back, Igor Stimac.

So now he faces the Irish, themselves the victims of cheating when Thierry Henry's hand eased France to the 2010 World Cup. Both teams see this as a final ahead of its time, knowing that points lost will be hard to claw back against Spain and Italy.

Bilic paid lavish tribute to Ireland's team ethic and "amazing'' defensive discipline but insisted that his men will spare no effort in seeking to break them down with a passing game orchestrated by Luka Modric and, if necessary, the aerial threat Nikica Jelavic should pose if Darijo Srna's crossing, as promised by Bilic, surpasses that of his old clubmate Tony Hibbert's at Everton. Srna became arguably the best crosser in Europe when David Beckham went to Los Angeles, so this is less a slight on Hibbert than a challenge to another character familiar to the patrons of Goodison Park, Richard Dunne.

According to Bilic, the Croatians will become potential champions if victory over Ireland builds a head of steam and part of the reason, he says, is Everton's centre-forward. "Jelavic is definitely one of the reasons we feel strong and very confident. He's in form after making an unbelievable impact at Everton and has impressed everyone.''

So perhaps one deal will affect the outcome in Poznan: the extremely astute one done by David Moyes when he took Jelavic from Rangers.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Voices
Vivienne Westwood and her son Joe Corré deliver an anti-fracking letter to No 10 last week
voicesThe great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick