Slaven Bilic overshadowed the announcement of Croatia’s preliminary 27-man squad for Euro 2012 by confirming that he would be standing down after the tournament.
The Croatia coach, who did not spring any surprises in his squad, insisted that his final two months in charge would be his “biggest challenge’’ after six years in the job.
“This is my last tournament in charge,’’ Bilic said after naming his squad that will take on Ireland, Spain and Italy in Group C.
“I’d like to thank the FA and the whole nation for putting their trust in me. I gave my utmost during six years at the helm, but the biggest challenge is still ahead of me.’’
It was the first time that Bilic had publicly admitted that he would not renew his contract after the tournament, although speculation about his next job has been rife for weeks. Besiktas have made an approach to him while Lokomotiv Moscow were also linked in the Croatian press this week.
The favourite to replace Bilic in charge is Igor Stimac, his former team-mate from Croatia’s third-place finishers at the 1998 World Cup.
Bilic had kept his cards close to his chest when it came to those he would select for the squad, but the next cut will come next week when he reduces his list by four names to 23.
Bilic confirmed captain Darijo Srna will play as a right-sided midfielder and not, as he is at Shakhtar Donetsk, as an attacking full-back.
Elsewhere in midfield, Ognjen Vukojevic and Tomislav Dujmovic will fight it out for the defensive midfield slot, while Bilic has promised to leave it until the last minute to assess Niko Kranjcar’s recovery from a knee injury.
“We’ll wait for him until the last day,’’ Bilic explained.
His toughest decision, Bilic said, was to leave out Ivan Klasnic and Mladen Petric from his list of strikers, which includes Ivica Olic, Nikica Jelavic, Eduardo da Silva and former Blackburn Rovers forward Nikola Kalinic.
“Those two are veterans who gave a lot to the team in the past,’’ Bilic said. “Unfortunately, they’re strikers, and it’s there, in attack, that we have the most options.’’
CROATIA Squad — goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Ivan Kelava (Dinamo Zagreb), Goran Blazevic (Hajduk Split).
Defenders: Domogoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Bayer Leverkusen), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Dejan Lovren (Lyon), Sime Vrsaljko (Dinamo Zagreb), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro), Danijel Pranjic (Bayern Munich), Jurica Buljat (Maccabi Haifa), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk).
Midfielders: Tomislav Dujmovic (Real Zaragoza), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Ivan Perisic (Borussia Dortmund), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham), Milan Badelj (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg).
Strikers: Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikola Kalinic (Dnipro).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved