Croatia coach Slaven Bilić was in jubilant mood after his side produced a dominant display to defeat England 2-0 in Zagreb on Wednesday night and move level on points at the top of UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying Group E.
The former Croatian international defender, who spent more than four years in England with West Ham United FC and Everton FC, has taken to international management like a duck to water since stepping up from the Under-21 team after the FIFA World Cup finals, with Croatia unbeaten in his four games in charge. His reign may have opened with a 2-0 win away to world champions Italy, but Bilić has no doubt that Wednesday's victory is his most significant coaching achievement to date.
"It was a big victory against one of the best teams in the world," he said. "It's important not only because of the three points won, but because it will also boost our confidence for our next matches. Although England are under pressure now and don't have room to make another wrong move, I still consider them the group favourites. But England's loss was not down to their poor play, rather the fact that we played really well."
'My favourite goal'
Eduardo da Silva's clever looping header gave Croatia the lead a minute past the hour before Gary Neville's unfortunate own goal eight minutes later effectively made the points safe. Eduardo was delighted with his second international strike, saying: "This is the favourite goal of my career. But it is not just about me, as the whole team achieved this and the atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. Now we are in an excellent situation, we showed our strength and I believe we will get to EURO 2008™." Midfielder Niko Kovač described the experience as "unbelievable", adding: "It's hard to describe these feelings. England didn't disappoint me, but they played only as well as we allowed them to, and that was not much."
'Celebrating Slaven's boys'
The euphoria was shared in the Croatian press, with the newspaper 24sata proclaiming "We are celebrating Slaven's boys!", adding: "Slaven Bilić has achieved something that looked impossible after the World Cup - he defeated an England team full of great stars. We are celebrating Bilić and his boys, we are celebrating one of the biggest Croatian victories ever. UEFA EURO 2008™ is still a long way off, but is there anyone who is confident of taking points off this Croatia?"
'Night to remember'
Večernji list was even more exuberant, declaring "England on their knees". "The tears were falling, all the stadium was crying," it went on. "It was a night to remember, a night in which we found relief after all the failings at the World Cup in Germany. Bilić's team showed how much they can do - Croatia allowed England only one chance, through Rooney, and then in eight minutes all we dreamed about came true." Bilić's side are next in action away to Israel, who also have seven points, on 15 November and will be keen to keep the dream alive.
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