Sunday, 1 July 2012


With Davor Suker to be the new HNS President, Igor Stimac to become Croatia's new coach and HNL1 reducing its numbers from 16 to 12 its all change with 2012/13 season. Off the back of a decent showing in Euro 2012 there is some air of optimism, met with the usual sceptisism and mistrust. In the domestic league it appears there is three contenders for the title this year, with reinvigorated Rijeka expected to chase for a top two finish. Whilst Dinamo still look likely to take the title again, Hajduk are the team most under threat from a club that could have easily been relegated last season. However new investment in new signings such as Josip Brezovec, Leon Benko, Dario Knezevic, Mate Neretljak, Drago Gabric and Jurica Vranjes are expected to improve the side considerably. Benko for one is proving scorer in HNL1 and Brezovec has been one of the best midfielders in the league for the last two seasons. If Rijeka can find the real Drago Gabric who impressed for Croatia and in Turkey they are also going to have a player of a real substances for this level. Knezevic and Vranjes have also been playing there football at a much higher level. The club it is felt are still short of another striker. Sasa Bjelanovic was the main target however he has options to stay in Italy with current club Verona or another Serie B side and is also interesting Pananios. Giving 33 year old Ivan Bosnjak another try out is option or more favourable signing Josip Tadic who failed to build on his good season at Arminia Bielfeld when he was signed by Lechia Grdansk.

Hajduk's unloved Ahmad Sharbini is also on their list, however Hajduk may trade him to Istra 1961 in order to sign up Cameroonian forward Henri Belle rather than trade him to a rival. Hajduk are already set to lose Ante Vukusic to a unnamed club in the next weeks and quality replacements are hard to find. Whilst Anton Maglica signed last week from Osijek is a talent, he has only 6 goals to his name last season and is more a replacement for losing Ivan Lendric to Zulte Varegem. Mario Ticinovic has also left cheaply to Denmark with Hajduk seeing the best of him and Marin Tomasov left for 1860 Munich without Hajduk receiving any compensation. Srdjan Andric and Drago Gabric were bizarrely released. Hajduk's hopes depend hugely on Anas Sharbini with so many key players gone and they still have a asset in Mario Maloca. The rest of the side still needs peicing together mainly from young players with Dinko Trebotic to receive another try as playmaker. Should Hajduk get the funds they may look at Osijek midfielder Tomislav Sorsa, but need a experienced striker. Those are few and far between and at the minute they do not even have one of the standard of Rijeka's Benko. One time target Mate Bilic now has all the incentive to stay at Sporting Gijon and be part of their push for promotion in Spain. Ergotelis's Mario Budimir must surely be of interested however with over 20 goals and 15 assists to his name during his three year stint in Greek football. He is now a free agent and seems a obvious target for Hajduk in their current financial position.

Dinamo watch over all this with little problems. None of their key players have left with Ivan Keleva, Tonel, Simunic, Ibanez, Beciraj, Krstanovic, Rukavina, Sammir, Leko, Pokrivac, Vrsaljko, Kovacic and most importantly Badelj all still present and raring to go in a fearsome squad. The player to keep an eye on this year is Josip Pivaric who after spending years impressing at Lokomotiva finally broke into Dinamo's team at left back. The challenge now is to stay there and potentially becomes Croatia's new number 3. If not it seems only a matter of time before Dinamo start thinking Hjorve Cale.

Although the target is Champions League football Dinamo have not seemed much interested in big name signings. Last season they were more than satisfied with Beciraj and Krstanovic and have barely seen the best of Rukavina yet. Jakub Sylvestr was justifiable sent away on loan and Duje Cop was brought in to replace him. But that remains one of few changes at the Maksimir. Dinamo's only real problem is what to do with the excess. Fortunately they are only youngsters so the likes of Andrej Kramaric, Matteo Poljak, Ivan Peko and Mario Situm are certain to go back to Lokomotiva for more first team experience. The only other deal Dinamo could do would be to sell Mathias Chago to Istra 1961. However even he remains useful. Arjan Ademi is likely to stay on and can cover midfield and centre back as Dinamo have now released aging captain Igor Biscan who could retire. Many observers feel however that winning HNL1 again and making one big sale would suit Dinamo's heirachy this season. Expect big things from Domagoj Vida, Sime Vrsaljko, Milan Badelj, Fatos Beciraj, Luis Ibanez and Matteo Kovacic this season. As a side Dinamo having player together consistently Dinamo are expected to function better this campaign.

Slaven Belupo and RNK Split are currently rated as the 4th and 5th best teams in the league. Belupo have however lost not only Leon Benko and Josip Brezovec, but also Goran Mujanovic and Stjepan Poljak. Mateas Delic however is a key signing and in Tomislav Busic, Bojan Vrucina, Martin Saban and Davor Vugrinec they should have enough up front. Glavina is key in central midfield after a good first season. Although Ante Batarelo has arrived they do need more creativity to support him. Brezovec was a excellant recruit last year and the club are looking for something similarly inspirational with him now gone. Roy Ferencina would love to get Domogoj Antolic who he coached at Lokomotiva, but Dinamo are unlikely to let him go just yet. Matteo Poljak may be more realistic.

RNK Split whilst have lost Duje Cop, did hold onto Ante Vitaic and Ivica Krizanac. Meanwhile Ivica Baraban, Romano Oblinovic, Aljosa Vojinovic and Golubor is more than enough of a strikeforce to soften Duje Cop's departure. With Josip Seradusic back from injury Split could be in for a strong season. Split are also sneakingly taking away the strength of rival Cibalia with Tomislav Radotic the latest arrival. Gradual progress remains their prime objective.

Cibalia and Osijek's when once top half was the plan will first think of avoiding relegation. Both lost their key striker. Cibalia losing Dino Kresinger and Osijek losing Anton Maglica. Respectively therefore Mladen Bartolovic and Ivan Milicevic are more important this season. Osijek may also go back again to Goran Ljubojevic who was freed from a unsuccessful stint at Targu Mures which would ease Maglica's loss. Vedran Jugovic is however also hunting for a new club in Ukraine and Marko Babic has not renewed his contract.

The team that nobody is yet sure how will do is NK Zagreb. There has been few changes there as yet, but also no stand out players that see them as potential top 5 candidates. If the team makes the top half it must be seen as a success. As well as Rijeka local rivals Istra 1961 are also one to be watch out for with ambitious coach Igor Pamic, Russian ownership in place and a ground to be proud of things are finally moving forward for the club who could have gone the wrong way. Tomislav Hajovic, Sandi Krizman, Henri Belle and Tomislav Barbaric were examples of Pamic's eye for a good player however and relegation disappeared last year. Kresimir Prgomet looks to be equally a shrewd recruit this time out. Secretly may in Istra feel Henri Belle for Ahmad Sharbini could be the deal that boosts their season. Although Belle is promising Ahmad has scored heavily throughout his career in Croatian football. Hajduk want to offload him however and don't want him to go to Rijeka and Istra could well benefit. The club have sold Karlo Primorac to Severin in Romania's Liga 2 but that's not being seen as much loss.

Zadar and Inter Zapresic start off as the most likely candidates for relegation, but only due to their size of clubs. Both benefit from affiliation with Hajduk and Dinamo Zagreb respectively. Zadar have Ivan Santini back at the club and cashed in on a somewhat surprising returnee Marin Tomasov. Santini should he stay could fire Zadar into midtable once again. If he goes however Zadar must get active for a replacement. They do have Zelimir Terkes back, but Hajduk are more inclined to hold onto their young players this time. Ivan Bosnjak is the sort of gamble they may take, but may also interest Rijeka and Cibalia.

Inter Zapresic narrowly avoided relegation and need to take action. Signing Lokomotiva defender Matej Bagaric was intelligent, but goalscoring is a issue with Arber Abilajaj out of contract. Signing up Ilija Sivonjic could have real advantages. Although Sivonjic has had problems with injury and illness he has a fairly decent scoring record and could have be profitable if he finds his best form. Neither Rijeka or Lokomotiva saw that from him, but Zapresic are more suited.