In an exclusive interview with Goal.com, Slaven Bilic reflects on a night that could have been for his young Croatia side following their defeat at the hands of Spain
EXCLUSIVESlaven Bilic was left crestfallen as Croatia bowed out of Euro 2012, but was quick praise his players for their commendable efforts.
A late goal from Jesus Navas handed Spain a 1-0 win in their Group C finale, consigning the Balkan side to third place in the group in what proved to be the 43-year-old's last game in charge of his country before departing for Lokomotiv Moscow.
While expressing his disappointment at the defeat, the former West Ham United defender declared that his players had suffered an unjust fate.
"The European Championship is the cruellest of sports events," Bilic told Goal.com.
"I am just so sad that we are out of the competition. We came here to compete with the big teams, and we were in a good way to do that.
"Yeah, we are out. That's it, but I don't think that is what we deserved. I think if you look at our performances and our attitude, we deserved to go through, and I also feel very proud of my players.
"I feel completely empty. I am not even thinking about how I feel, given that this was my last game in charge of my country.
"We came that close to winning today with that chance we had [Rakitic's second-half header].
"When you play against the world champions you don't create ten chances, maybe you just have three moments, and you have to make sure that you score your goals then.
"We didn't do it. And we also didn't have that little bit of luck you need as well, and now we are out."
Bilic refused to draw comparisons with the way in which Russia suffered elimination from Group A, stating that his side had a far tougher group.
"Look, with the greatest respect to them, what we went through was very different to what happened to Russia," he argued.
"Our opponents after our first game were Spain and Italy. They are among the top favourites. And if you were to look back at the games against them you can see that we gave them a good game."