World Cup: Team will ‘fight till the end’, say SPL’s Croatian players
Tanjong Pagar midfielder Mirko Sugic is not joking when he says Croatia will come to a standstill when they play Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals on Friday.
Such is the football fever in the nation of four million people that “even if you head out to a shop to buy something, I think the shopkeeper is going to get mad at you”, said the 28-year-old.
“Every single Croatian will be watching the match. Everywhere now, all you see are Croatian flags outside shops and on cars. It is really cold at the moment here so most of us will be watching from inside coffee shops, bars or at home.”
Four years ago, Sugic was among at least 500,000 of his countrymen at Jelacic square in Zagreb to give a heroes’ welcome to the Croatian national team.
Their surprise final run in Russia 2018 was a milestone moment for Croatia and years later, Sugic was still waxing lyrical about that squad and recalling the scenes in the capital then.
But there was a nine-second silence down the line from Nova Gradiska – a small town Sugic calls home and where he is back for a holiday – when he was asked if a victory over Brazil would eclipse that improbable run four years ago.
He finally said: “I think so, yes. This is Brazil. One of the biggest national teams. And in this World Cup, they are the favourites. Everyone is expecting them to not just win this match, but the whole tournament. If we knock them out, it is huge. It will be incredible.”
Croatia have never beaten Brazil in a game and despite the mismatch, Sugic is putting his faith in coach Zlatko Dalic and his men.
Sugic, like his compatriot and Hougang United midfielder Kristijan Krajcek, will be watching the game at a bar with a group of friends.
Krajcek, who was the hat-trick hero in Hougang’s Singapore Cup final last month – is also back home in Osijek after the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.
The 29-year-old said: “This team will fight till the end. People here are really excited for the match even though it is against Brazil because over the years, the team has shown that it can match against anyone. It is in our nature to fight with all we have until the final whistle. Anything is possible.”
Former SAFFC forward Mislav Karoglan – who won the S.League (now SPL) player of the year and golden boots honours in 2011 – said Croatia will turn their underdog status into an advantage.
Said Karoglan, who is now manager of one of Croatia’s biggest clubs, Hajduk Split: “Some countries have more registered football players than we have people overall. Croatia is a small country that has been through a lot throughout its history and that is the reason why players who are wearing the national team jerseys do so with a lot of pride and always give everything they have on the pitch for Croatia.”
Croatia have won all three of their World Cup penalty shootouts to date and he is confident thye can take Brazil to spot kicks.
“Croatia needs to be disciplined, compact and brave at the same time. A low scoring game is a chance for us and we have players who are capable to create chances and score goals and use some defensive weaknesses that Brazil have in their playing style,” he said.
The 40-year-old is also tipping his club player, forward Marko Livaja – who has one goal in four appearances at this World Cup – to make an impact against Brazil if given the opportunity.
Karoglan said: “ We as a club are very proud of Livaja. He has deserved his chance due to his dedication and the level of domination he showed in domestic league. I hope to see him on the pitch helping his teammates to face one of the strongest teams in the world.”
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