So it’s goodbye, as Croatia bows out of the Euro 2012 tournament at the group stages, Slaven Bilic and his side can depart on a high note after some tremendous football and superb colour.
The price tags on a lot of the Croatian team, especially in the case of Wolfsburg striker Mario Mandzukic and Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric will be rising sharply after their displays helped to light up the competition.
I have no doubt agents of both will be sitting by the telephone, waiting for the offers to come flying in after performances that, especially in Mandzukic’s case, made certain people in certain leagues in Europe sit up and take notice.
Before the start of the tournament Mandzukic was supposed to play second fiddle to Bayern Munich forward Ivica Olic, with the absence of the 32-year-old seen as a body blow before the competition had started.
After three good performances from the forward line, things now look brighter for the World Cup 2014 qualifiers, where the two frontmen for Croatia will be in their prime. Both are currently 26-years-old and that will bring headaches to all the coaches in the group, Craig Levein included.
For head coach Bilic, it is the end of the road as he departs for Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. He will no doubt look back and wonder if he had waited and not signed up to take on his new side before the start of the tournament, what type of bargaining position he could have been in. With jobs such as the one at Tottenham Hotspur available, Bilic would have been a prime candidate after the job he did during the campaign, playing an attractive brand of football that had the masses cheering.
The one problem for Bilic was the last game against Spain, when instead of going for the attacking style that had led the side so well in the previous two fixtures, he opted for a more conservative formation, leaving Nikica Jelavic on the bench, as he opted to go one up front.
That left Mandzukic isolated, and while Spain hogged the ball and possession throughout the game, they never really troubled Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatian goal. Ultimately the coach and the fans are left to wonder what might have been, had they been more attacking.
Bilic, while deserving criticism for some of his tactics, deserves the upmost praise for his condemnation of the so-called Croatian supporters who racially abused Italy striker Mario Balotelli. Telling these thugs that he didn’t want them supporting his country was a superb stance, something which was sadly lacking from others in power.
The Euro 2012 competition will be poorer without the sight of the red and white chequered shirts in the stands and a coach, who kicked every ball for his side. Whether it was in his beanie hat, his suit, or his shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Bilic, the team and the majority of the fans who made the journey to Poland, showed the passion that everyone loves about football.
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