Slaven Bilic: Encouraging my players is my way of doing things

The man of the tournament so far reveals how he masterminded Croatia's stunning win, what is behind his extraordinary, and tiring, touchline display and how victory compared with the World Cup 10 years ago

When we finally had a moment in the early hours of yesterday morning, I sat down with my assistants and we talked about whether the win over Germany was better than when we beat them 3-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1998. Put it this way, my team's performance on Thursday was better than 1998. We outplayed them by a much greater margin than we did when I played in that game in Lyons 10 years ago. My players were wonderful. They did everything that I asked of them.

But better than 1998? That was a victory that got us a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup. It established Croatian football as a force in the world less than seven years after the country had declared its independence. In terms of significance it is still the biggest game in the history of football in our country. Yes, we are a small country in terms of territory. For example, if you go to the United States, then perhaps 50 per cent of the people there will not have heard of Croatia. But if you love football, then after 1998 you knew who and what Croatia was.

Our win over Germany in Klagenfurt was a group game, not the World Cup quarter-finals, but it does mean that we are in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 ... and there is the prospect of even greater games to come.

I was exhausted – and I wasn't even playing

People tell me that they cannot believe how much energy I expend on the touchline. I was so caught up in the rhythm of the game that I hardly even noticed, but when the final whistle went I felt the effect of all that tension and excitement. The game is won by the players – plain and simple – I cannot do anything to influence the game beyond what I say to them, but I want them to know I am with them every step of the way.

I give them instructions and I give them encouragement but I never criticise them during the game. I do not want to make them nervous, either, I just want to keep the momentum of their play going. I want to keep them in the right positions, too. I don't know if it has an effect on the opposition. To be honest, I do not care. It is my team that I'm thinking about.

Some managers prefer to do it a different way on the touchline. I am not saying that one way is better than another. But encouraging my players, driving them on – that is my way of doing it and I am not going to change.

We had a plan and it worked

Close down Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings. Be aggressive. Dominate them at every opportunity. Stop the ball going down the wings. We were really well prepared for this game. Every player knew what he had to do and for much of the game we stopped Germany coming forward. But they are a good team with good players and we knew that we would not be able to stop them every time. So when they did attack we had to rely on our defence to keep them out and it did the job.

Funnily enough, it is easier to prepare against a team like Germany than it is to play Austria. The better the team, the more predictable they are – and I don't mean that as an insult. Germany can switch systems, they have players who can win the game with a piece of brilliance in a split second – but we know how they play.

It is the same with Manchester United, for example – they have a way of playing. It then becomes a case of whether your players are good enough to stop them.

In Croatia, they still want more

It is unbelievable. Back home we still got criticism for only beating Austria 1-0 last Sunday. There were parts of our media who had presented the Austrians as being at the same level as a non-league team. They said we should have beaten them 4-0. They said we sat back too much in the later stages. What they did not take into account was we were playing the co-hosts, in Vienna, on the opening weekend of the tournament. We were also under extreme psychological pressure to win the game. It was a great performance.

I like open football, but stakes are high

Whenever we play, we try to play good, open football. That has not been the case with every team; for example, Greece's approach against Sweden on Tuesday was very old-fashioned and defensive. Then, the criticism was justified; in fact, Greece have been slaughtered by the media for the way they played. It shows that people are not just bothered about the results, they like – within reason – to see teams playing with style, too.

We will always try to play good football but people need to remember we cannot go crazy and attack with 10 men every time we get the ball. This is an international tournament, you have to be a bit cleverer than that.

Pepe's caught my eye

As well as my own players, there have been some good individual performances. I like Pepe, of Portugal, who I have not seen that much of at Real Madrid because of his injuries. David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Deco, too. Not surprising choices but very good players.

The WAGs stayed over after the Germany game

On Thursday night, after we beat Germany, the players' families were allowed to stay at our team hotel in Klagenfurt. I want my players to be able to relax and we have tried to keep the schedule as normal as possible. At about 11am yesterday morning we said goodbye to the families and got on the coach back to our training camp in Bad Tatzmannsdorf. We had lunch, a rest, a training session and then free time. Everyone was in bed by 11.30pm.

The players have plenty to keep them occupied at our training camp; we have PlayStations, DVDs, movies. Today we will watch a DVD of the Germany game and we will take a look at Poland, who we play on Monday night in Klagenfurt in our last Group B game.

Everything is planned out for the players. They know what they are doing every moment of the day.

Big Phil will be perfect for Chelsea

Luiz Felipe Scolari is one of those managers I really admire. I have never seen his teams when he was a club manager, but what he has done with the national teams he has managed – Brazil and now Portugal – is incredible. It is a great move for Scolari and great for Chelsea. I don't know how he will cope with the pressure – that's up to him – but he is the right manager for Chelsea. I may find myself up against him in the knockout stages here. I certainly hope so.

Been there... The first time Croatia beat Germany

*Croatia's 2-1 victory over Germany in Klagenfurt this week rekindled memories of their World Cup quarter-final win over the same opponents in Lyons in 1998.

The Croats, led by Miroslav Blazevic, caused one of the greatest World Cup surprises with a 3-0 win over the three-times champions, with Slaven Bilic instrumental in defence.

After Christian Wörns was shown a red card for a late tackle on Davor Suker just before half-time, Robert Jarni struck past Andreas Köpke to give the Croats the lead in their first World Cup. Goran Vlaovic and Suker, who ended the tournament as top scorer, added further goals in the last 10 minutes to send the Germans out. Croatia went on to lose to the hosts, France, in the semi-final.

World Cup quarter-final, Stade Gerland, Lyons, 4 July 1998

Croatia (3-5-2): Ladic; Stimac, Bilic, Simic; Jarni, Asanovic, Soldo, Boban, Stanic; Suker, Vlaovic (Maric, 83).

Germany (3-4-1-2): Kopke; Wörns, Matthäus, Kohler; Heinrich, Hamman (Marschall, 79), Jeremies, Tarnat; Hassler (Kirsten, 69); Klinsmann, Bierhoff.

Slaven Bilic is a Unicef ambassador. The fee for this column has been donated to charity.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform