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
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The Independent Football

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.