Players plead for Bilic stay

22 June 2008 | 05:44 - PA Sport

Popular figure- Croatian coach Slaven Bilic (L) with a distraught Ivan Rakitic (R) after the loss to Turkey (Getty)

Croatia's players have pleaded with Slaven Bilic to remain as coach for their World Cup qualifying campaign when they face England again.


Bilic masterminded victories over England in qualifying for Euro 2008 but they were knocked out following last night's dramatic quarter-final against Turkey in Vienna when they lost on penalties.

Their run has enhanced Bilic's reputation and it is believed his contract to coach his country earns the former West Ham defender a fraction of what he could command at a Barclays Premier League club. He has also turned down offers in the past.

However, his players want him to guide Croatia to South Africa in 2010 rather than walk away from international football.

"He's a great coach and a great person and we hope he stays as our national coach," said defender Josip Simunic.

"For sure, clubs will be interested because he has shown his quality for the last few years now. We're very happy that we can have him as our coach."

Niko Kovac, skipper for the tournament, is expected to retire from international football but there are hopes for the rest of the squad to remain together and for Bilic to stay in his current position.

"We'll stick together. There is a saying in Croatia that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I think it'll make us stronger," added Simunic.

"It's very disappointing but life is not always how everyone wants it to be. Sometimes you have to have a low point and you have to come back and show your character. We'll do that."

Kovac added: "Now I'm ready to go, but the young players will have a new chance in two years, four years, six and eight years. Let's see what Croatia can go on and do."

Bilic's men were seconds away from the semi-finals after Ivan Klasnic gave them the lead at Ernst Happel Stadium with less than two minutes remaining of the 120, only for Turkey to level at the death.

Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mladen Petric failed with their spot-kicks during the shootout, with Fatih Terim's men keeping their nerve to set up a clash against Germany on Thursday (AEST) in Basle.

Simunic added: "If someone came up with a nightmare, it wouldn't make it like it was for us. It's awful. It's disappointing but life goes on."

"It wasn't meant to be and when your destiny is not to win, there is not much you can do. It was a big opportunity for us but we cannot changed what has happened now."

Following the thrilling finale, there were reports of violence between fans in Bosnia - but there were only 12 arrests in Vienna, according to UEFA.

"Police said that it is quite calm," said a spokesperson for the governing body for European football, who also issued a small fine to the Croatia Football Federation after fans let off flares during the victory over Austria on the second day of the tournament.

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