It is not the kind of answer that will be well received by England supporters, although it would be clung to as a shred of mitigation by Steve McClaren. But Slaven Bilic said yesterday that Croatia's participation in Euro 2008 might have been prevented had Wayne Rooney taken a chance presented to him on that disastrous night in Zagreb almost two years ago.
"As time passes people say we swept England away," the Croatia manager said when asked about the two wins over McClaren's team which helped earn his nation their place here. "But they were tough matches. We earned our victory but if Rooney had scored when it was 0-0 in Zagreb [in October 2006] who knows?"
Instead Rooney's shot sailed over and Croatia won 2-0. Given their performances, the likelihood is they would have progressed to a meeting with Germany tonight in any case. It is a contest that should decide who tops Group B, although Bilic believes that if his team are victorious they can then go all the way to winning the competition itself – something that did not appear evident from a nervy opening win against Austria.
"Definitely," Bilic said when asked whether beating Germany would make Croatia contenders for the trophy. "Certainly. Whoever beats Germany can hope to beat anybody." It is, he said, "an open championship", even if Bilic rates the Germans "one of the three favourites. They are a great power. But we are also self-confident", he added.
So self-confident that Bilic claimed he expected the Germans would settle for second place in the group because it meant they would qualify for the last eight. That logic slightly threw Joachim Löw, the German coach, who could not quite work out if it was a trick question when it was later put to him.
Bilic has a right to be confident – not least because he was a member of the Croatia team that beat Germany 3-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1998. "I like to think back to that match as all Croats do," Bilic said. "That was one of our great victories, maybe the greatest. But it doesn't mean much at the moment. It won't give us a corner kick extra. It's a nice souvenir."
What has not been so nice for Bilic – a guitarist and songwriter – has been the questioning of the music his team has listened to. The topic blew up at the weekend after he revealed he had played a song to the players called "How Beautiful You Are", by the Croatian singer Thompson. Innocuous as that sounds, there has been controversy since the song contains lyrics incorporating slogans used by the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime during the Second World War.
Bilic was asked what kind of music would characterise the German team and, clearly irritated, responded: "This isn't an opera. We are in Austria but we play football. Don't ask me such questions any more. This is for a children's magazine."
Croatia (probable 4-1-4-1): Pletikosa (Spartak Moscow); Corluka (Manchester City), R Kovac (Borussia Dortmund), Simunic (Hertha Berlin), Pranjic (Heerenveen); N Kovac (Salzburg); Srna (Shaktar Donetsk), Rakitic (Schalke), Modric (Tottenham), Kranjcar (Portsmouth); Olic (Hamburg).
Germany (probable 4-4-2): Lehmann (Stuttgart); Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Metzelder (Real Madrid), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Lahm (Bayern Munich); Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Frings (Werder Bremen), Ballack (Chelsea), Podolski; Klose (both Bayern Munich); Gomez (Stuttgart).
Referee: F De Bleeckere (Belgium).
Misses next match if booked: Croatia R Kovac; Germany Schweinsteiger.Reuse content