Croat media heap praise on England, caution Bilic

September 11, 2008

ZAGREB, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Croatia's media poured lavish praise on a reinvigorated England and their new manager Fabio Capello, who gave home coach Slaven Bilic a humiliating lesson for his 40th birthday.

"Capello has outwitted Bilic. It was payback time, and some," Thursday's Jutarnji List daily said after an inspired England trashed Croatia 4-1 in their World Cup Group Six qualifier in Zagreb.

Croatia beat England twice in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, costing the team a place in the final tournament and manager Steve McCLaren his job.

"This is not McClaren's England. This is a powerful team, at the moment stronger and better than Croatia," the daily said.

"Hats off, Mr. Capello," said a headline in another widely circulated daily, Vecernji List. "Fabio the Great has humiliated Bilic on the eve of his birthday," it said.

Bilic, who took over Croatia in 2006, turned 40 on Thursday. He is hugely popular in the soccer-crazed former Yugoslav republic, but commentators said his relative lack of coaching experience has taken its toll.

"The wily Don Fabio has shown Bilic and our boys that they need some additional education. Bilic is highly talented but still needs to fully master the trade," the Vecernji List said.

It was Croatia's first home defeat in competitive games since 1994.

The defeat prompted some soccer pundits to suggest a reshuffle of the squad's ageing defence, led by brothers Robert and Niko Kovac, both in their thirties.

"They are obviously not superfit...Bilic could starting thinking about new blood," the Vecernji List said.