Croatia manager Slaven Bilic lavished praise on his side after their 1-0 loss to Spain despite suffering elimination from Euro 2012.
The Vatreni performed admirably to keep the scoreline blank during the Group C encounter until the 88th minute, when a Jesus Navas strike consigned them to an early exit from the tournament.
For Bilic it was not the farewell he would have hoped for as he leaves his post as national team boss to take up a full-time role with Lokomotiv Moscow.
But despite lamenting Croatia’s missed chances, the 43-year-old was pleased with how his team fared overall.
“I want to congratulate my players. It was a heroic game but unfortunately we didn’t win,” Bilic told Croatian national TV channel HRT.
“We defended very well, and we knew that we’ll have our chances. We had the best ones in the match, but didn’t use them. If we did we would play in the quarter-finals.
“We tried everything. We defended, then we tried to press, to attack, everything was open, but at the end that was not enough.
“We came to win this Euro and the plan was not accomplished, but no matter, we left a good impression.”
Bilic continued by adding his belief that the current group of players will form the basis of an excellent team that can continue to improve after he departs.
“This is a fantastic generation, they will be better in two years from now, and we can have great results in the future,” he said.
In his final act as manager of the national team, Bilic showed good humour, stating: “Thank you for putting up with me.”
Croatia midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic also expressed his disappointment at losing the game but shared Bilic’s sentiments that Croatia will only get better.
“Unfortunately, we feel sad now. We did our best, fought for every ball, but lost at the end. I think we have a bright future, we proved that here,” Vukojevic said.
“At the end, we lacked some luck, and you need luck to beat Spain. But we are going home with our heads held high.”
With Croatia unable to find the back of the net in the 90 minutes, substitute striker Nikica Jelavic was adamant that if his side had been more clinical they could have, and deservedly, progressed.
“We let them play, we didn’t use our chances. We did everything we planned, except that, but I think we deserved to go through,” the Everton striker said.
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