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
News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
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

Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband