Saturday, 13 March 2010


Croatia remain on the hunt for a replacement for Niko Kovac to fill the role of solitary defensive midfielder to play alongside Luka Modric. Kovac's retirement was first entrusted to Genoa's Ivan Juric, but at 34 years old is not regarded to be the future. Juric at 1.75m also lacked height and physical presence. After one friendly match V Romania, one non event V Andorra and the decisive 2-2 draw with Ukraine, Juric was dropped to the bench and is currently out the squad entirely.

Next man to step forward was Dinamo Kiev's Ogjnen Vukojevic who enjoyed excellant seasons at Dinamo Zagreb winning titles in 2007 and 2008, before switching to Ukraine where he immediately won a first team place and the league Championship in his first season. The club also reached the semi finals of the Europa Liga. Closer inspection however would suggest that Vukojevic has been sharing the role of combative midfielder with Nikola Pokrivac in Zagreb and with Tamas Mykhalyk at his current club. Vukojevic also has a taste for moving forward and pressurising on the ball. In Croatia Vukojevic registered 11 goals in the 2007/ 08 season. Vukojevic would therefore appear unaccustomed to the task holding off a opposition alongside a lightweight Modric.

Tomislav Dujmovic, however is much more used to the role of sitting and protecting his backline, which he has done to great success with Lokomotive Moscow and Amkar Perm. Dujmovic is 1.86m in height, only slightly taller than Vukojevic, but more fiercely built player. Aierily Dujmovic also appears stronger than Vukojevic and is often seen at Lokomotive taking the ball from his back line to feed the more creative talents in midfield. If Dujmovic can hold his place in a increasingly ambitious Lokomotive side then many Croatia fans would like to see him get the start in the coming matches. Siena's Mato Jajalo and Red Bull Salzburg's Nikola Pokrivac are also on the fringes of the side. Jajalo however is relegated threatened, whilst Pokrivac's appearence in a inferior league doesn't help his cause at the present moment in time.

Both Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic were in similar positions a year ago. Both were regularly selected in the national team with Slaven Bilic overlooking the talents of Sporting Gijon's Mate Bilic, Rapid Vienna's Nikica Jelavic and even at times proven Bundesliga striker and Euro 2008 star Ivan Klasnic. The situation however has now changed with even Palermo's super sub Igor Budan back in the goals. Kalinic is spending time with the Under 21's whilst Mandzukic continues to do for Dinamo against inferior opposition. With Eduardo back, Mladen Petric, Olic, Klasnic and also Bilic now on board it is unlikely their will be room for one of Mandzukic, Kalinic or Jelavic on a regular basis. All must fancy their chances in circumstances of injuries with Klasnic, Eduardo and Petric particularly vulnerable in this area. However 70% of the time Slaven Bilic is likely to decide on one or the other. With Mario Mandzukic likely to transfer in the summer, Kalinic will not need to worry about pressure from Dinamo Zagreb to get Mandzukic his neccessary caps for too much longer. Both have impressive HNL1 stats. However Kalinic is now finally starting to prove himself in a top foriegn league despite a slow start whilst Mandzo is still waiting to transfer. It is likely when both players begin the next season they will be in a showdown in their respective clubs to get the call from Bilic.

Drago Gabric and Ivan Perisic belong to a new breed of Croatian midfielders emerging to aid Slaven Bilic squad. Kaiserslautern's Ivo Ilicevic and Dinamo's Milan Badelj also continues to intrigue the national team selectors, but are not expected to boom till next season. Gabric and Perisic however are already performing in a Tier 2 league with Trabzonspor and Club Brugge respectively. Gabric currently holds a place in Croatia's squad having ousted Anas Sharbini. Gabric is regarded as a steady tactically minded creative player, maybe lacking the flair of Kranjcar, Rakitic or Modric, but with the reliability of Dario Srna who can play right or left or as emergency full back. Its Gabric's workrate and energy which may have him in the squad at present ahead of the more mecurial Ilicevic, Badelj and Sharbini. Gabric is also with a strong club in a respected league that features giants Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas. Gabric has been playing well at club level, but at present seems behind Rakitic, Srna on the right and Kranjcar and Pranjic on the left.

When the Under 21's complete competitive action Ivan Perisic hopes to join Milan Badelj and Nikola Kalinic in pushing for a place in Croatia's first team squad. Perisic will bring to Croatia what they seem to lack from central midfield which is goals. Perisic can play right, left, centrally and in attack. Perisic brought 8 goals last season whilst on loan at Rosesaleare and this season has found 9 in all competitions for Brugge which has brought him to the attention of stronger clubs after only a year and a half of competitive action. It would not be surprising if Perisic's assent all meant regular appearences in Bilic's squad for the 2012 qualification campaign. Perisic appears to have it all. Both strong on his right and left side. A good runner with decent pace and at 1,80m he is excellant in the air and a serious threat from corners and crosses which has seen him compared in playing style to Mikael Ballack. This is a player which Croatia do not have in their current squad or wider squad. Kranjcar, Rakitic and Modric are known a highly technical creator with excellant crossing, dribbling and passing ability. Gabric, Srna and Pranjic also have good creative ability combined with excellant workrate and stamina. Badelj and Ilicevic will also supply the similar qualities to Modric, but none of these players are as proficient in the penalty as Perisic who is eager to get on the end of chances.