Bilic banks on Jelavic as he plots one last hurrah



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
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice