Sunday, 29 November 2009


As Croatia looks to the future and to the 2012 European Championship Qualifying Campaign, several younger players will be looking to step up into the first team. 35 year old Robert Kovac has been the first to step aside, though striker Ivica Olic, Ivica Knezevic and Josip Simunic will stay on as are still important to the team. A number of the elder fringe players may not have a future in the Croatian national team. So who should stay and who should go?

IVAN KLASNIC, Bolton Wanderers, Age 30
39 caps, 12 goals
Klasnic's goal at the weekend against Europa Liga qualifiers Fulham shows he is still the killer in the box which made him a much loved player at Werder Bremen. Klasnic now only plays an occasional support striker role at club and international level, but is likely to come under huge competition for his jersey from Nikica Jelavic, Mario Mandzukic and Mate Bilic which could cause his removal from the squad. With 12 goals for Croatia, Klasnic has been more than useful for the national. Klasnic was widely regarded to have been wasted by Otto Baric riding the pine during Euro 2004, but did play during the 2006 World Cup under Zlatko Kranjcar. However this was only a year before serious illness resulting in kidney failure which led to two transplant operations. Klasnic made a remarkable return to high level football scoring 7 times for Werder Bremen during the second half of the season and then cracking in important strikes during Croatia's Euro 2008 campaign. During 2010 World Cup qualifying Klasnic was again arguably wasted 5 times mainly as substitute scoring 1 goal. 2012 could possibly be a step too far for a player whose speed his decreased as a consequence of his illness and period spent out the game. If Klasnic is willing he could be of use to Croatia during periods of injury, but due his natural decreased level of workrate Klasnic could lose out to the more agile Mate Bilic and Jelavic in the forthcoming games.

IGOR BUDAN, Palermo, 30
6 caps, 0 goals
Whilst illness has impacted on Klasnic, Croatia has never managed to get Igor Budan fit. Currently Budan is one of few Croatian success stories in Serie A having performed excellantly with Atalanta, Parma and Ascoli. Budan's issue however has always been his injury problems which has left him with no real international career worth mentioning. This season is the first season where Budan has been properly fit in two years and the player when years continues to remind Croatia of his quality. Budan is a robust forward which Croatia do not possess in Eduardo, Petric, Olic and Mate Bilic. Budan is excellant in the air, but also neat on the ground. It is likely Budan may need a spree of goals to get him back in contention. However by the time Croatia play their first serious qualifying matches the player will be into his 30's and it may not be possible for Budan with the injuries he's had to play both club and international football. Budan's Croatia career looks likely to pass without the country really seeing what he can do.

IVICA BANOVIC, SC Freiburg, Age 29
1 caps, 0 goals
Although Croatia are on the hunt for back up to Luka Modric, it appears Ivica Banovic has made his move just a little too late to enter the national team. Banovic is a first team regular in the side of Bundesliga 1 club SC Freiburg and is performing well in the central midfield scoring 3 goals so far and making 14 appearences. Although Banovic rise is probably more impressive then that which got Nenad Bjelica a late call up for the Euro 2004 squad, coach Slaven Bilic is looking for younger players and has sited Ivo Ilicevic, Ivan Perisic and Milan Badelj as more preferable options. Banovic has made a decent career in Germany with Nuremburg, Werder Bremen and with his current club. Banovic probably has not hit the heights however which he could have done and is likely to continue to have a good end to his career without international representation.

JERKO LEKO, Monaco, Age 29
59 caps, 2 goals
Jerko Leko has been the first casualty in Croatia's attempt to revamp their squad following failure to reach the 2010 World Cup. The all action midfielder infuriated many by failing to transfer despite being transfer listed by Monaco in the summer. Whilst Nikola Pokrivac came under huge criticism for failure to provide any creativity or defensive solidity in the absence of Luka Modric, it was in fact the more experienced Jerko Leko who should have been stepping in. However with no club action before him, Bilic was left with his hands tied and has now removed Leko from Croatia's squad. It is possible Leko could force his way back in. The player has huge experience in Champions League football with Dinamo Kiev and has been called up to every tournament squad Croatia qualified for since Euro 2004. However it is going to require consistent first team action and an improved attitude from the player to put the checked shirt back on again.

MARKO BABIC, Real Zaragoza, Age 28
49 caps, 3 goals
Whilst the forementioned players could struggle to find their way into Croatia's squad, Marko Babic is in the opposite situation. Babic was left out by Slaven Bilic for the Euro 2008 campaign and the 2010 qualifiers having lost form at Real Betis and Hertha Berlin. Babic however has already been sited for a potential return should he continue his improvement at Real Zaragoza. Babic is attempting to steal a march on Bayern Munich's Daniel Pranjic and Schalke's Ivan Rakitic who are both experiencing difficult seasons in the Bundesliga. Babic who was Croatia's best player in the 2006 World Cup still has the physical attributes and quality to make a return. He has seems to have a coach willing to give him a chance and it will be interesting to see the response of left midfielder as the season progresses. Babic has a lot of experience having played with Croatia in the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Euro qualifiers. He also has plenty of games behind him playing Champions League football with Bayer Leverkusen.

IVAN JURIC, Genoa, Age 34
5 caps, 0 goals
Whilst Ivan Juric's popularity remains in tact at Serie A side Genoa, the defensive midfielder struggled to win over Croatia fans during the 2010 qualifying campaign. It is likely that at 34 Juric has played his last match for the national team. Juric's call up appears to have just that bit too late in his career which started way back in 1994 with Hajduk Split. Juric disappeared of the radar for a long time during his 20's playing in Serie B and Serie C with Crotone, before his transfer to Genoa. Juric was inspiration in their promotion and they duely rose to fourth place in the top flight last season, with Juric at the heart of things. His performance in the match in which Croatia dropped two decisive points at home to Ukraine did little to inspire Croatia fans still looking for their new Niko Kovac. With the younger Ognjen Vukojevic, Nikola Pokrivac and newly capped Tomislav Dujmovic on board it appears there is no longer room for Juric who is likely to nevertheless stay for another season with high flying Genoa.

VEDRAN RUNJE, Lens, Age 33
12 caps, 0 goals
International recognition was a long time coming for Vedran Runje, who during the peak of his career with Standard Liege, Marsielle and Besiktas could not anything to get a call up into the Croatian national team missing every tournament from Euro 1996 to the 2006 World Cup as Miroslav Blazevic, Mirko Jozic, Otto Baric and Zlatko Kranjcar all overlooked him. It was only when Slaven Bilic took charge for the Euro 2008 qualifiers that Runje moved him up the pecking order to replace the injured Joey Didulica and retired Tomislav Butina. Runje did not make a good start Croatia's defence look a shambles in the 4-3 win over Israel whilst deputising for Stipe Pletikosa. Although called up for Euro 2008 he played just once in the match with Poland, but was introduced in place of a out of practice Pletikosa in 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Opinion is divided as to whether Runje did a good job. Since Runje's arrival in the team Croatia looked decidedly edgy from crosses and conceded 9 goals in the matches he played against England, Belarus, Kazakstan and Ukraine. Although he was a star performer in the Belarus match and made saves against England, he also caused moments of panics and his misskick in the England match is seen as the darkest moment in Croatia's ill fated campaign. Ultimately Croatia's defence experience meltdown with Vedran Corluka losing his cool and getting himself red carded and centre halfs Simunic and Krizanac being sent home prior to their last match against Kazakstan. Whilst Pletikosa, Mario Galinovic and Joey Didulica continue to play second choice at their clubs, Runje remains in the Croatia squad. At 33, soon to be 34 in February Croatia will be looking for a replacement as soon as possible.