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Croatia: House of the rising son

Father coaches, while son is the wunderkind, writes Stefan Korshak.

india Updated: May 21, 2006 16:16 IST
Stefan Korshak
Stefan Korshak

Croatia have put their World Cup hopes in the hands and the feet, literally, of a father-son team: Former Yugoslavian international Zlatko Kranjcar coaches the side that finished third at France ’98, while his son Niko is the maturing wunderkind of Croatian football.

Together the father-son duo and their compatriots stayed impressively undefeated and topped qualifying Group Eight, also comprising Sweden, Bulgaria and Hungary, for a spot in the finals.

Two hard-fought 1-0 victories over the Swedes sealed their passage though to the fi nals, although they finished level on points with their Scandinavian rivals.

Niko, who made his debut just a month after his 20th birthday, has been the only domestic-based player in the team. And now he has become the team's mainstay.

Plying his trade for Hajduk Split since leaving Dinamo Zagreb at the start of 2005, he has, in the meantime, grown handsomely into the role of playmaker and youthful leader with the proud National side.

His father came into the post under quite a bit of a fire due to his lack of experience, but he has also proven himself ready for the big stage with his team's consistent table-topping effort.

A more conservative team than the adventurers of ‘98, the present generation of the Croats can still cause a problem or two for their adversaries. “Our strength lies in the team as a whole, unlike in the 1998 World Cup where we had players who could change the flow of a game on their own,” coach Krancjar recently remarked.

The Croatians still fondly remember how their country barely made it to the finals in 1998 before shocking the world with a phenomenal run to the semis.

Their sojourn to Korea-Japan in 2002 turned out to be less heroic as, despite finishing their qualifying run unbeaten, they were knocked out in the group stage.

With most of the “golden generation” already retired, Jozic Mirko’s side went out at the group stage despite handing Italy a famous defeat. Prosinecki, Suk er and Mirko all retired after the failure, leaving coach Otto Baric to pick up the pieces. Failing to guide the team to the knockout rounds of Euro 2004 after some limp performances, he too was forced to resign.

Though certainly not as star-studded a side, as the one that stormed to third in France, the team still possesses some names who can change the passage of the game with their skills. Igor Tudor, Milan’s Dario Simic, the brothers Kovac (Niko and Robert), Kranjcar and Dado Prso form the backbone of what, many reckon as a dark horse in Germany 2006.

And though repeating the meteoric run of eight years earlier is going to be a long shot, the side will be aided by the number of players currently playing at the highest levels of Germany's Bun desliga.

First Published: May 21, 2006 01:36 IST