Slaven Bilić, Croatia's guitar-strumming coach, cut a highly animated figure as his team turned back time to record a 2-1 victory over Group B opponents Germany.
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Croatia coach Slaven Bilić is seldom slow to show his emotions and they were apparent for all to see during his side's 2-1 victory against Germany in Klagenfurt. Bilić, a man who epitomises the word animated, was the liveliest and most agitated figure at the Wörthersee Stadion, and his exertions would have been worth watching alone, had this Group B match not been such an exciting affair.
Bilić, even without having the scalps of England in qualifying and now Germany here on his CV, is quite some character. At the age of 39, he is the youngest coach at UEFA EURO 2008™ and the least conventional. Surely no coach has ever patrolled the sidelines sporting a diamond earring, with a law degree to his name and a penchant for playing guitar-based heavy metal music. His Klagenfurt counterpart, the immaculately groomed Germany coach Joachim Löw, seemed somewhat dour by comparison. Both men once played for Bundesliga side Karlsruher SC in Germany, but there the similarities end.
The former Croatia Under-21 coach, who took charge of the senior side in July 2006 and has now taken them to the quarter-finals with this victory, was an entertaining sideshow during the Germany encounter. While Löw sought refuge in the dugout from time to time, Bilić prowled every square metre of the technical area throughout, despite the near-incessant rain. Even when crouching down, hands on his knees, he was soon up again, gesticulating to his players like a man possessed. His sense of frustration at not being out there playing was tangible as he appealed for virtually every free-kick and throw-in.
Hugs of celebration
When Darijo Srna prodded home the opener in the 24th minute, Bilić could no longer contain himself, charging on to the field of play before remembering his place and jumping back to the correct side of the touchline, deep into the arms of one of his backroom staff. He kept himself largely in check for Croatia's second goal, by Ivica Olić in the 62nd minute, but his nerves were apparent when Lukas Podolski pulled one back in the 79th minute. At the final whistle, however, he was back on the pitch again, lost in more hugs of joyous celebration. Ten years on from playing in the team when Croatia first beat Germany, a 3-0 victory in the 1998 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, Bilić was the architect of their second triumph, and the taste of victory was no less sweet.
At the pre-match press conference, Bilić was, not for the first time, asked to compare opponents Germany to a piece of music, but he was in no mood to answer. He said the question was more suited to a children's magazine, though the songs bouncing off the walls in the Croatia dressing room after defeating Germany must have sounded like a rhapsodic symphony to Bilić, who had composed his finest masterpiece.