Croatia eliminated from Euro 2012, Bilic to leave

Croatia eliminated from Euro 2012, Bilic to leave

Published Jun. 19, 2012 12:42 a.m. ET

Croatia is out, and so is Slaven Bilic.

The Croatia coach, who had already said he would be leaving the national team to take over at Lokomotiv Moscow, ended his tenure Monday after a 1-0 loss to Spain in Group C of the European Championship

The 43-year-old Bilic, who played for the Croatia team that reached 1998 World Cup semifinals, said he did not expect to be leaving the tournament this early.

''I just want to say thank you to the Croatian FA. They gave me a chance as a young coach. I had no experience,'' Bilic said. ''I will go on as a coach ... but I will never be proud as I am now, because being a national team coach is a unique experience.''


Bilic has impressed at Euro 2012. His tactical changes at halftime against Italy changed the game and allowed Croatia to earn a draw. And for long stretches of Monday's match against Spain, Bilic's system worked. The defending champions struggled to find their usual rhythm and lacked penetration.

And until Jesus Navas scored the winning goal for Spain in the 88th minute, the best chance fell to Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic in the 59th, but his header was saved by Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

''We suffered,'' Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.

Despite playing in another major tournament, the lasting memory from Bilic's six years in charge will likely be how the team's euphoric celebrations in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals turned to despair moments later.

When Ivan Klasnic headed Croatia ahead with seconds left in the game against Turkey, Bilic celebrated as if the match was over. But Turkey had enough time to score with the last kick of the match, leaving Croatia's players crestfallen after losing in a shootout.

The Croats then failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but it hasn't dampened the admiration his players have for him.

''It was a beautiful six years,'' Croatia defender Vedran Corluka said. ''(He is) one of the best managers in football.''