Bilic: Klasnic story a fairytale
Ivan Klasnic's remarkable return from a kidney transplant operation saw him score the winner in Croatia's 1-0 win over Poland in their UEFA EURO 2008 Group B clash on Monday and his expolit was hailed as a fairytale by national coach Slaven Bilic.
The 28-year-old - who underwent the successful transplant operation in March 2007 after receiving one from his father, a month after the one donated from his mother failed - became not only the first kidney transplant patient to play in a major finals but also capped it by scoring.
Bilic, who played through the pain barrier with a fractured hip in the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals where the Croats reached the last four, hailed Klasnic, both as a player and as a person.
"We are proud of him," said 39-year-old Bilic, who saw his side finish their group matches with a perfect nine points. He is a very strong personality. We rang him when we first learnt the news about his kidney operation.
"But it was him who raised our morale," Bilic added. "Now, he is not only in good health, but also back playing at a very high level.
"He is one of the leading scorers for Werder Bremen, one of the biggest clubs in the main championships (though Klasnic is now sueing two of the club doctors for failing to diagnose the seriousness of his condition early enough).
"It really is a fairytale," added Bilic, who recalled Klasnic to the squad for the 1-1 draw in a friendly with Scotland in March.
Bilic, who is fast becoming one of the hottest properties in coaching having masterminded two defeats of England in the qualifiers including the final one at Wembley and then of Germany last week, said he was really proud of the manner in which his side - effectively a second choice one - had disposed of Poland.
"I am proud for several reasons," said Bilic, who is not only the coach but also wrote and played the guitar with his rock band on the team's song. "We are not the first team to win three group matches at a European championships.
"But there have not been many who have," he added. "My players were fabulous. They were not only courageous, but tactically perfect and played to a very high technical quality.
"I knew that these guys could deliver this type of match," he went on. "This is a deserved victory. If Artur Boruc (the Polish goalkeeper) hadn't been so brilliant we could have been 2-0 up at half-time.
"The only time that we were threatened, Vedran Runje (the Croat goalkeeper) saved us."
The diamond earring adorned Bilic, who when it is not match days prefers to wear jeans and sneakers, said he was not afraid of meeting the Turks - astonishing 3-2 winners over Czech Republic on Sunday - in the quarter-final in Vienna on Friday.
"We are a match away from the semi-finals," he said. "But it will be difficult against a strong adversary. However, whatever happens, we are still a very good team. With just a little luck, and I believe we deserve a little, I think we can beat anyone."