ZAGREB, June 5 (Reuters) - Slaven Bilic has suffered many trials and tribulations as Croatia coach and faces another stiff challenge if his six year spell in charge is to finish on a high.
His roller-coaster experiences have only intensified his resolve to steer the squad he has led since 2006 into the knockout stages of this summer’s tournament - his last in charge before he leaves to take over Lokomotiv Moscow
As both player and coach Bilic has endured highs and lows, triumphs and disappointments, in a career punctuated with incident.
He was a key member of his country’s run to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals in France where he was embroiled in controversy after an infamous clash with Laurent Blanc when Bilic’s “simulation” led to the Frenchman being sent off and missing the final.
Bilic, 43, from Split, found it difficult to shake off the stigma of that episode, especially in France, but has shown few signs of any lasting damage in a promising coaching career.
He was caretaker manager at his former club Hajduk Split and also coached Croatia’s Under-21 side for two years before he took charge of the senior side.
A smooth run through the Euro 2008 qualifiers included a knockout ‘double’ over England, not only cost their coach Steve McClaren his job but also drew the attention of several Premier League clubs.
Bilic’s market value rocketed after taking Croatia to the last eight at Euro 2008, but his luck changed after a heart-breaking defeat by Turkey.
Having seen his team take a 119th-minute lead in Vienna, Bilic watched in disbelief as the Turks equalised with the last kick of extra time and won the penalty shootout.
After that emotional setback, there were times when Bilic may have regretted his decision to reject all offers and stay with the national team as he twice came close to losing his job.
He first came under fire when Croatia failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, especially in the aftermath of a 5-1 rout by England, which followed an earlier 4-1 loss to them in the campaign.
Patchy form continued through the Euro 2012 qualifiers when a 2-0 defeat by Greece left them second in their group, behind the 2004 winners, and Bilic’s job again hanging by a thread.
But he gained vindication, and some revenge for Croatia’s Viennese exit, by defeating Turkey 3-0 on aggregate in the play-offs and the man who has a law degree and also plays the guitar in a rock band, was able to celebrate.
Bilic enjoys the unequivocal trust of his players and his authority and enthusiasm will be key factors when Croatia seek to advance from a daunting group featuring Spain, Italy and Ireland. (Editing by Mitch Phillips)