Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Dinamo Shocks Chelsea in Zagreb to Kick Off Champions League Campaign

 September 6, 2022 - Dinamo beat Chelsea 1-0 in the first round of the Champions League Group E at Maksimir Stadium in front of 20,607 spectators.

Dinamo Zagreb opened their eighth appearance in the Champions League group stage at Maksimir stadium with a victory against former European and English champions Chelsea. The deciding goal was scored by Mislav Oršić in the 13th minute.

Chelsea won direct placement in the Champions League after finishing third place in the Premier League last season. The Croatian champion played three qualifying rounds to secure a place among the European football elite. They clinched a spot in the group stage after beating Bodo/Glimt. 

Chelsea took the initiative from the first minute, but it didn't take long for Dinamo to answer back. In the 13th minute, Dinamo countered and converted the attack into a goal by Mislav Oršić.

The action started with Robert Ljubičić, who sent a long ball to Bruno Petković. Bruno passed it to Oršić, who dribbled past Wesley Fofana, a new Chelsea player who arrived from Leicester City for 82 million euros. Oršić ran about 50 meters and beat goalkeeper Kepa for 1:0!

Chelsea equalized in the 48th minute, but Aubameyang's goal was ultimately called offside. In the 56th minute, Dinamo was one step closer to a second goal, but Stefan Ristovski's fantastic shot hit the crossbar.

Reece James also hit the post in the 85th minute. Mateo Kovačić played for Chelsea until the 59th minute.

RB Salzburg and Milan meet in the second match from this group at 21:00.

Dinamo plays their next Champions League match on Wednesday, September 14, at San Siro against Milan. 

Lineups

DINAMO: Livaković - Ristovski, Perić, J. Šutalo - Moharrami, Mišić, Ademi, Ljubičić - Ivanušec - Petković, Oršić

CHELSEA: Arrizabalaga - Azpilicueta, Koulibaly, Fofana - James, Kovačić, Mount, Chilwell - Havertz, Sterling - Aubameyang

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Could Joško Gvardiol Become Croatia's Most Expensive Footballer?

July 28, 2022 - Three Premier League clubs are after the 20-year-old Croatian stopper, but will RB Leipzig give up Joško Gvardiol - and at what cost? 

Joško Gvardiol may only be 20 years old, but he has already played at the top level of football for two seasons. After showing tremendous talent in the Dinamo jersey, the Zagreb native was transferred to RB Leipzig for 16.5 million euros in 2020 and found his spot in the starting lineup in his first season. 

Gol.hr reveals that Gvardiol is the target of many European giants at the moment, but only a few can afford him. The Croatian stopper is currently worth 35 million euros, according to Transfermarkt, but his actual price is much higher. A possible transfer could go over 50 million euros, making him the most expensive Croatian footballer in history.

The future is still unknown, and the summer transfer window continues. Big names are at his door, but Leipzig is a tough negotiator, and the German club is serious about keeping the Bundesliga's best stopper.

According to Sky Sports, three English giants have sent inquiries for the Croatia national team player, and allegedly Tottenham has opened negotiations, but Manchester United and Chelsea want him in their ranks, too. 

A transfer to all three clubs is quite realistic, and Gvardiol would likely find a place in the starting 11 quickly. Moreover, if there are no injuries, he is also guaranteed a spot in Croatia's starting lineup at the World Cup in Qatar later this year, which is always enticing news for clubs. 

Chelsea is cited as a very likely destination for the Croatian youngster. The English club recently failed to transfer Kounde, who chose Barcelona, so now the owners are considering Kimpembe, Skriniar, or Gvardiol. The Croatian stopper has a bigger advantage here because he is younger than the French and the Slovak footballers. 

By going to Tottenham, Gvardoil would play with Ivan Perišić. At the same time, Mateo Kovačić awaits him at Chelsea. And by transferring to the famous United, he would become the first Croatian in history to wear the Red Devils jersey.

In April, Gvardiol was named the 4th best young footballer under 21 in Europe, according to the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES).

Gvardiol took an admirable fourth place in the survey of 100 players as the 'ground blocker playmaker.' Ahead of him was only Bukayo Saka, Mason Greenwodd, and Patrick Wimmer of Arminia Bielefeld.

The three factors that were considered when ranking players were their performance in relation to teammates, the results of their club, and the quality of opponents. The CIES states that for each of the 100 best young players in Europe, they highlighted two categories of technical skills in which, based on statistics, they are the best out of 11.

Thus, Saka was marked as a dribbler and creator of chances, while Gvardiol's defense and ball distribution was emphasized, confirming the epithet of a modern stopper. Gvardiol also played the most minutes for his team out of the 20 best young footballers, with 86.8% of all available minutes for Leipzig.

In 2021, Gvardiol was also up for the Golden Boy award, traditionally held by Turin's Tuttosport and editor Massimo Franchi who compiles a list of the most outstanding young footballers worldwide. 

The young footballer has already proved himself in his short but impressive career so far, and he is only getting started. 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić to Meet in Champions League Quarterfinals

March 18,  2022 - Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić will meet in the Champions League quarterfinals as Real Madrid and Chelsea face off next month. 

The draw for the Champions League quarterfinals was held today at the headquarters of the European Football Federation (UEFA) in Nyon.

The draw was open and there were no seeded teams or “protected” pairs. Any team could be drawn against any other team.

Certainly one of the most interesting pairs is the clash between the current European champions Chelsea and the most trophy-winning European club Real Madrid. It will be a clash between two of Croatia's best footballers - Luka Modrić and Mate Kovačić. Last season, Chelsea and Real Madrid met in the semifinals and the English club advanced with a 3:1 aggregate. 

Manchester City will play against Atletico Madrid, Villarreal will meet Bayern, while Benfica will play against Liverpool.

The semifinal pairs were also drawn immediately. The winner of the Manchester City - Atletico Madrid match will play against the winner of the Chelsea and Real Madrid match. 

In the second semifinal, the winners of Benfica - Liverpool, and Villarreal - Bayern Munich will play.

England (Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea) and Spain (Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Villarreal) will have three clubs in the quarterfinals, and Germany (Bayern) and Portugal (Benfica) will have one each.

Five Croatian footballers remain in the competition - Luka Modrić (Real), Mateo Kovačić (Chelsea), Šime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), and Bayern's reserves Josip Stanišić and Gabriel Vidović.

The first quarterfinal matches are scheduled for April 5 and 6, and the return matches are on April 12 and 13. The semifinals are on April 26 and 27, and the return matches are on May 3 and 4. The final is on May 28 at the Stade de France in Paris.

After the Champions League draw, the draw for the Europa League quarterfinals and semifinals follows from 13:30.

The eight best clubs in the Europa League are from Germany (Eintracht and Leipzig), and Italy (Atalanta), Spain (Barcelona), Portugal (Braga), France (Lyon), Scotland (Rangers), and England (West Ham) will have one representative each in the quarterfinals.

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Thursday, 10 February 2022

FIFA 'Man of the Match' Mateo Kovačić on Fire for Chelsea at Club World Cup

February 10, 2020 - Mateo Kovačić was named the FIFA 'Man of the Match' of the Club World Cup semifinal on Wednesday between Chelsea and Al Hilal.

It didn't go as Chelsea fans would have expected, but the Premier League club topped the Asian champions Al Hilal in the World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday night. The 1:0 victory was thanks to a Romelu Lukaku goal after a blunder by the opponents. Havertz recorded the assist, reports Jutarnji List.

There were many opportunities for the London club, but also any close moments in the second half as Al Hilal went aggressively to get the equalizing goal. Instead, they failed, primarily because of brilliant defending by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, still the highest-paid keeper of all time.

Interestingly, although Lukaku scored the only goal, and Kepa defended miraculously in the second half, FIFA chose Mateo Kovačić as the player of the match!

Screenshot_2022-02-10_at_10.56.58.png

The Croat is currently on fire for Chelsea. Not only did he score the potential goal of the Premier League season against Liverpool in January, but he recently wore the captain's armband for the club, too. He has been so good that assistant coach Zsolt Low (as head Tuchel has COVID) called him "the great leader of Chelsea".

"I may have made some, let’s call them, unforced mistakes that I don’t normally make, but it’s good, and I’m happy. I have to point out Kepa. He is a world-class goalkeeper, blessed to have as many as three great goalkeepers at our club. As for the match, it was tough. It’s the World Cup semi-finals; we knew it would be that way. We should have scored the second goal; that would have relaxed us even more," said Low after the match.

Chelsea will play against South American champions Palmeiras on Saturday at 5 pm to fight for their first Club World Cup title in club history. When they won the Champions League in 2012, they played another Brazilian team, the Corinthians, in the World Cup final. Chelsea lost 1:0.

"We know how passionate Brazilian fans are. We are looking forward to that match, but it will be at least as demanding as this one against Al Hilal. It would be great to win another trophy. However, this is not easy to come by. You must first qualify for the European Champions League, then win it, and then pass the semifinals of the World Cup," said the Croatian national team player after FIFA presented him the player of the match award.

Thomas Tuchel's assistant, Zsolt Low, also spoke in selected words about Kovačić:

"Kova has a lot of experience. He played a handful of games like this. He is important to us on and off the field, and today he did everything. He didn’t stop running; he didn’t stop fighting and always found the best possible solutions for the team. We are thrilled that this kind of player is at our club; he is a great leader." 

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Mateo Kovačić Wins 4th Champions League Title!

May 29, 2021 - Mateo Kovačić and Chelsea are the champions of Europe after defeating Manchester City 1:0 in the final tonight. 

Mateo Kovačić is the European champion with Chelsea! The Croatia national team player played the last 15 minutes in Chelsea's Champions League final win against Manchester City (1:0).

Kovačić had previously won three consecutive Champions League titles with Real Madrid, but never entered the pitch in any of the finals. He has thus played the Champions League final for the first time.

"Winning the Champions League is impressive. I did it three times with Real Madrid, but unfortunately, I never played in those finals. Despite that, I was there. And it's the team that wins. We all win and lose, as a team. Playing in the final would mean a lot to me," said the 27-year-old before the final, and coach Thomas Tuchel fulfilled his wish by bringing him on at the end of the match.

Croatia has had a Champions League winner every year since 2013, and Kovačić has extended this series for the ninth season. First, Mario Mandžukić celebrated with Bayern in 2013, followed by Luka Modrić with Real and Ivan Rakitić with Barcelona. After that, Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić were the best in Europe three times in a row, but Liverpool and Dejan Lovren broke Real's dominance in 2019. Last year, Ivan Perišić was better than PSG in the final against Bayern.

Source: Index.hr 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

To learn more about sport in Croatia, CLICK HERE

Thursday, 9 January 2020

TCN Down Under: Interview with Goalkeeping Legend Mark Bosnich in Sydney

January 9, 2020 - Total Croatia News interviews former Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea & Socceroos goalkeeper, and current analyst for Fox Sports Football. An afternoon with Mark Bosnich at the Clovelly Hotel in Sydney.

I booked my first trip to Australia back in October 2019, though the reality didn’t set in until I flew over Singapore. “Wait a minute, I’m making my way to the other side of the world!” And then the thick humidity at Changi Airport was the best reminder that I would be arriving in Sydney in just 8 hours, in the heart and heat of an Australian summer, two days before New Year’s Eve. 

While I was worried about sweating through 40 degree temperatures and the impact of the bushfires, I was also preparing to meet the closest friends and family members of my boyfriend, who have been only visions in my head for the past year and a half. Our itinerary was loaded, and we needed the stars to align to ensure we could achieve everything we set out to do in just 15 days. 

However, while this trip had quite a few different end goals, as a member of the diaspora and writer for Total Croatia News for the last three-and-a-half years, I knew that connecting with the Australian-Croatian community was also a crucial piece to getting the most I could out of this trip. 

The TCN boss and I had discussed potential interview candidates before I left, though I found it hard to believe we could set one up with THE Mark Bosnich. 

But there we were, sitting in the beer garden of the Clovelly Hotel on a Tuesday afternoon, talking about the fascinating life of this goalkeeping legend. 

Mark arrived with his precious daughter Allegra in tow, whose eyes lit up at the golden box of Bajadera I brought from Split to say, “thank you for meeting me in Sydney, at 4 pm, on a summer day”. Mark was cheerful from the start and greeted me as if we were old friends. 

I figured asking about his Croatian heritage was the perfect place to start. 

“Mum was born here. But her parents, whose maiden name is Padovan, originally come from Blato in Korcula. They came out here between the First and Second World War. Dad came out here from Blato in 1959 at an early age - he was only 15. After the Second World War, his father sat the three boys down, cut their hair, and said he could afford to send the oldest one to University, and he’d become a professor, as he was involved in politics then and lived in Split. The middle one could stay here and help on the farm, and my dad could either go with his uncle ‘stari Barba Donko’ to San Francisco, or with his sister in Australia. His sister had sent him a soccer ball from there once and he just loved soccer, so he decided to go to Australia. He worked on a farm out here, then went into the fibreglass business, and now has his own pool fibreglass business. 

My mum’s father and my dad’s brother-in-law had become good friends in Australia, and that’s basically how my parents met. Today, we have family all over -  in Split, Zagreb, and even in Kiseljak, which is just outside Sarajevo. 

I asked Mark if he visits the homeland often. 

“We do. We didn’t go the last two years because we just had another little one, little Cassius, and with him, we’d have no chance traveling haha. But before that, we used to go back every summer. We would always go two and a half weeks to Croatia, and we always have to visit the family in Blato. Sara, my fiancé, who is half Samoan and half Australian, really likes the Radisson Blu Hotel in Split, which is great for the kids. So we will usually spend a few weeks there then one week in England because I spent so much time in England.”

Mark turned around to ask his daughter Allegra how many times she’d been to Croatia - two or three?

“Three!” she said with a smile stretching from ear to ear. 

I was curious about Mark's exposure to the Croatian community growing up in Sydney.

“Growing up over here, there was a variety of Croatian communities. You would have the ones who were staunchly, staunchly Croatian, then you had the moderate ones, or families that didn’t want to get into anything, and then you had other ones who were scattered all around. We grew up in the west of Sydney, where everyone knew each other. I left in 1988 to go to Manchester United, but I had to come back because I couldn’t get a work permit in 1991 when the war was going on. To be honest, it was really good to see at that time that the vast majority put all issues aside and came together as one. 

I went back in February 1992 to Aston Villa and followed the war and helped as much as I possibly could from over there in England. In the beginning, it was tough. My mum, who liked to stay away from politics, said that my father, who was a moderate, would be in tears about what was going on. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. But from England to witness how they not only held on eventually, but also built themselves up, and then basically retook their lands in that stunning operation… I was really proud. There are a lot of people on the other side who tried to besmirch what was a fantastic operation. 10,000 kilometres in 3-4 days was absolutely phenomenal. I am very, very proud of what they went through and how they fought and like I’ve said many times, we’ve won the war. There is no need to fight that again. We’ve won the war and we won it well, and now we have to win the peace - and that is more difficult. 

Winning the peace will take time. Just remember, we had close to 600,000 refugees, or nearly 10% of the population, so that would be like 35 million people coming to America,” Mark estimated. 

We moved on from his Croatian upbringing to his early football days. 

“Our club here was Hajduk; the other was King Tom. There was a really good Australian goalkeeping coach named Ron Cory, who was at the Italian club Marconi and he wanted me to come there. He used to take me training with the first team as well. Then he went to King Tom, so I went to King Tom as well. That was around ’86/’87. Then I was at King Tom until I went to Manchester United when I was 16. Liverpool originally wanted to sign me at 15 but my dad wanted me to finish school, so I finished the basic schooling and went to Manchester when I was 16. And basically, Sir Alex Ferguson turned around and said, ‘you’re coming here’. 

I remember getting him to ring up my parents saying, ‘he’s coming and that’s it’. And my dad was going ‘listen, you’ve woken us up’, so he put my mum on and Ferguson said ‘he’s coming here, and he’s going to have a 2,000 GBP signing on fee, and we will put it straight into your account.’ Mum said, ‘signed!’

I was there for three years and I played three games. I was a young kid and they had a really good apprenticeship and all that, and I couldn’t stay because of the work permit thing. So I came back here for those six months, and January/February 1992 I went to Aston Villa. I had seven great years at Aston Villa, which was really good.”

I couldn’t forget to mention that TCN’s Paul Bradbury is a massive Villa fan - and my job could be on the line if Mark didn’t share his favorite moments at the club. 

“The two trophies, definitely. It was two League Cups. We won in ’94 against my old team Manchester United and we beat them as massive underdogs. And then against Leeds United in ’95/’96. There is nothing better than when you win at Wembley - that is a very special thing that no one can take away from you.

The first year of the Premier League was good too. We were going for the title against United and Norwich, funny enough. We came second, but it was still great. 

Mark Bosnich was also lucky enough to work with Sir Alex Ferguson… twice. 

“Haha yeah, the second time around. It was great, and I got to fulfil my real big dream, which was to win the Premier League title - and by a record amount until two years ago when Man City beat it. And we won the World Club Championship, which was fantastic. I would have loved to have stayed there, but I had a big falling out with him. As my dad used to say, rule number one, the boss is always right. And rule number two is that if the boss is wrong, refer to rule number one. Looking back now, I probably was a little bit too bulletproof at that age. I’m willing to compromise a little bit, although, that whole situation was really his doing and it was really that rule in a nutshell. I should have just bit my tongue and been smart, but I couldn’t. So, after one year, we won two trophies, and the writing was on the wall. He basically said 'we will see who will win this battle' and signed another goalkeeper even though the poor thing didn’t do great, but whatever, I was on the way out, and I left probably halfway through the following year and went to Chelsea.

Mark then spoke about his turbulent Chelsea days. 

“I had a great time at Chelsea on the pitch. Off the pitch, I divorced, and I met somebody who wasn’t as fortunate as me, didn’t grow up in a loving family like I did, and was a drug addict. I took it upon myself to try to help somebody who was less fortunate than myself, and I was injured at the time - but her habit became my habit. I was found guilty of having cocaine in my system even though at the time, I had 18 tests before, which never showed anything. But anyway, I was found guilty, and I was banned for nine months, and that’s where I let myself down. I said fine, if you think I am on drugs, I will show you about taking drugs. I had the money and the time on my hands to do what I wanted and I did. Was it the right thing to do? No. If I had the chance to do it over again, would I have? Yes, I would have done things differently. But I was devastated, because I had what I lived for, which was playing football, taken away from me, and I kept thinking to myself something is being taken away from me only because I was trying to help someone else. It would have been good to have a brother or somebody to come and knock me around the head. Dad tried to, but I just wasn’t in the mood. 

After three years of doing nothing I realised that was pretty much it, and then in 2007/2008, some people from Australia came over and asked if I fancied coming back. I said ‘are you sure? I’ve got more luggage than the queen.’ But they wanted me to come back and try it. The funny thing is, I took half the fee - the fee was 300,000 USD, and I had taken 150,000 to go on this celebrity rehab. That blond-headed guy from Lethal Weapon, and the girl from Rocky 4, Brigitte Nielsen, were going to be there. I had to come back to Sydney to do some stuff, and I told everyone I was going. Mum and Dad said, ‘you can’t go and do this’, and I didn’t get why. I said I’m clean anyway now, and I’ve never been a drinker. I told them I’ll be fine, that I’ll kill it on the show, and they begged me not to put them through it. I told them I had already taken half the money, I had an American visa, and I was going. 

Anyway, my cousin on my dad’s side is a dentist and asked me to see him before I went. We called him ‘Mali Peter’. He then turned around and said, ‘buddy, I don’t want to sound funny, but you’ve got an abscess, you can’t fly. If you fly, you could die.’

I asked him if he was serious and he said he was. I had to ring up the people and give the money back and apologise. Anyway, a week later, I went back to the dentist and my cousin said, ‘I know you’re going to think this is odd, but the abscess is not as bad as I first thought.’ I thought my parents maybe had a word with him haha. 

Since then, I played maybe six games for the Central Coast Mariners and I hadn’t played in six years. Then they asked me to take the Premier League and the local league working for Fox Sports, and it’s been lovely. The last three years they gave me and this other chap Bill Woods, who has been around for 30-40 years, our own sports show. It’s four nights a week and it's been great. 

And Mark’s love life? 

“I’ve been married twice, this is going to be number three now, and I have two great young kids. If I don’t get this one right, I’m out of the will apparently, haha. That’s what Mum and Dad joke.”

Mark only had 17 caps for the Australia national team.

“The Australian national team was never a priority for me. I don’t want people to think that is unpatriotic - it wasn’t. The main reason was that there was no international calendar back then. In other words, when Australia played, I’d have to miss a game in the Premier League. There was not one coach that I had over there who did not say ‘all the best, go, but don’t expect to get your place back.’ That's why I was very, very limited with the times that I could play. I remember we had a World Cup qualifier against Canada and it was on the opening day of the Premier League. And I just said to the coach, please, I’ll play the second league, and they suspended me - and I didn’t get my place back for 13 games. So I said I am going to retire now, that’s it. Things got better, but in the end, my club career was a priority for me.” 

Most Australian football fans remember the day Australia and Croatia drew in the 2006 World Cup. The draw pushed Australia into the round of 16, while Croatia was eliminated from the competition. How have these two football nations progressed since then?

“I’m trying to help Australian football as much as I can, but I’ve always been seen as more of an outsider, because I spent so much time in England. Even growing up in Australia at that time, the vast majority of people saw you as Croatian. They didn’t see you as Australian. And that was just a fact. But it was funny, when I went to England at 16, they started calling me an Aussie haha. 

So, I am always very wary when I give advice because you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. If they ask me, I tell them. 

The team Australia beat to qualify was Uruguay in 2005. The next World Cup, Australia got knocked out in the next round, but you know where Uruguay finished? Third. 

Australia drew with Croatia 2:2. Great result, they got through. Croatia didn’t. Croatia since has been in the final. Australia again has not progressed past the first round. 

We are supposed to have the most participated people in the country of Australia playing football - over one million. But you know what, that would be lucky if we had that in Croatia. The country is only 4 million people itself. Their average crowd in Croatia is about 3,000 in the 10-team league. Not last summer, but the summer before, they sold talent worth 74 million EUR. So that goes to show, in my opinion, something has either gone wrong or was wrong before. I always say to them ‘look, no, football is not the number one sport here, but neither is it in the States.’ But some things can be done that we are not doing and there are places to learn from that do it on a shoestring. And you guys have got more money in this sport here than you’ve ever had.

Do you realise how much it costs to play football over here? Here’s an example. There is a program for talented youngsters called SAP- Skills Acquisition Program. It costs 2,500 AUD a year for that. One guy wrote to me on Twitter saying he has two sons playing and has to tell the third one he isn’t good enough because he can’t afford to pay that fee. That’s extortion. 

Australia truly is a lucky country in that it hasn’t been through war, even though right now we are experiencing natural disasters. We are a very wealthy nation, we are in the G20, and this sport is very, very popular. And for whatever reason, it never has filled its potential. It came close in 2006, but I really can’t see that happening again for quite some time.

And the question needs to be asked - and I’m sure it’s asked all the time - as to why.”

We moved on from the Australian national team to the key to Croatia’s success at the 2018 World Cup. 

“I think the spirit played the biggest part, but let’s forget about the two main things, which was that we had two of the best players in the world - Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. And that is a massive, massive thing to have. When you have two players playing for the two biggest clubs in the world, whom you know have done well, it just works. That is, for me, the two hugest factors. But then you have Mandzukic as well, Subasic, Vida, Perisic, Lovren… all of them can lay claim to playing their part and they did. It wasn’t like we had players on Real Madrid and then it went down to some lower club. 

Let’s not forget that the new manager came in, installed a lovely environment for everyone, and of course, we had that amazing will and fighting spirit. I was there working for RT Today. I had a fantastic time and actually learned Russian before I went and I was just so proud. I can never forget the night of that semifinal. I remember texting Gareth Southgate, my ex-teammate and told him who I was going to support, and he was lovely about it. 

Mark pulled out his mobile phone and scrolled through his messages to read his conversation with Southgate that night.

July 13, 2018

Thinking so much how best to say this. You remember back in the day at Aston Villa my pride in having Croatian ancestry. But from that day at my place, when we there the baseball at each other, until now, I don’t think I ever really told you how proud I was to have you as a friend. At this tournament, not only have you shown the world how good a manager you are, but you’ve shown through the team how good England is. You’ve done a fantastic job in this tournament and do not let any of the jealous bitters tell you any different. How many of them have been to the semi-final of a major tournament as a player and a manager like you? Zero. Go and win tomorrow in the 3rd and 4th playoff. All the very best. Say hi to Alison. And most importantly, I am very proud of you, my friend.”

Southgate replied:

“Thank you so much, mate. Your message means a lot to me. I think we virtually got everything out of this group. Progress for sure. Plenty of things to get better at. Also, we have made a difference in people’s lives and that will stay with me forever. I  loved our playing time together. Special team, special friendship.”

Bosnich was emotional reading the messages back.

“Look, if Croatia, England, or Australia were invaded, I’d be there on the front line. England has done so well for me. But that night was one of the best nights ever. That will live with me forever. That whole trip.”

Croatia and England will meet again, this time in the group stage of the 2020 Euros in London. 

“If it were the other way around, I’d be happy - you know, time for revenge. But now I’m a little bit concerned. I think both teams have done well since the World Cup, but if you had to maybe lean towards one that was looking a little bit more dangerous right now, it would probably be England. But from a psychological perspective, we’ve got nothing to fear. That first half we played against England in the semis, to be fair, I thought if England had scored that second goal, the game might have been different. But with the spirit that we’ve shown, in the second half, Croatia just took over. Brilliant football. We really deserved to win in normal time, but then it went to extra time and I was happy we didn’t have to win on penalties again. 

At the Euros, I think they should both get out of the group. But that also depends on who the last team in the group is.”

I told him it could be Serbia.

“I think that would be really good.”

Croatia is a team of many young talents, and I was curious to know who Mark considered the team’s best prospects.

“Kovacic at Chelsea. Dinamo’s Bruno Petkovic is magnificent. He has really stood out for me. The young goalkeeper Livakovic is looking okay as well. 

Unfortunately, there will never be another Modric or Rakitic, that’s understandable, just like there will never be another Maradona, but you’re going to have to find people who are willing to step up. They put their foot on the accelerator through these qualifiers, and I think they have that confidence from doing so well at the World Cup. 

Due to Bosnich’s excitement about Petkovic, I wondered if he followed the Croatian Championship.

“Look, I am a Hajduk supporter, but there has been a long time since we’ve won. Even though Dinamo is not my team, they should have qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League. That game against Shakhtar was unbelievable. With the coefficient rating, it looks as though now, a second team will have a chance to get into the Champions League. 

I know there was a time in the old Yugoslavia where Tito had that law where you couldn’t leave the country until you were 27 or 28, but now, the world has changed. For me, in the big four European leagues, maybe five if you want to count France, the job is to keep developing these players and selling them and building up the funds to hopefully invest in infrastructure. There is no shame in that.”

To conclude, I asked Mark about his favorite team-mates and rivals. 

“Paul McGrath and Marcel Desailly are the best defenders I’ve played with. The most dangerous striker I’ve played against? That’s a toss-up between Gabriel Batistuta and Robby Fowler at his best. 

But the best player I’ve ever played with is Ryan Giggs.”

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Saturday, 16 November 2019

How Mateo Kovacic Improved Under Frank Lampard

November 16, 2019 - Chelsea has been doing well this season. They currently sit 3rd in the Premier League, a point ahead of the current champions, Manchester City, but eight behind the current leaders Liverpool. Many thought that with inexperienced Frank Lampard as the manager and a transfer ban, the Blues might collapse this season. However, they have proved their doubters wrong, so did Mateo Kovacic. 

The 25-year-old Croatian midfielder re-joined Chelsea last summer in a reported £45million deal after spending last season on loan at Stamford Bridge. Despite the transfer ban, many Chelsea fans didn’t welcome the news with excitement, but Kovacic massively improved his game under Lampard. 

Last season, everything was so predictable. Under Maurizio Sarri, either Kovacic or Ross Barkley would start the game and one would be replaced with another in the second half. Although the Croatian made 21 Premier League starts under the Italian, he completed 90 minutes just twice. Fast-forward to this season, Kovacic looks to be on the right track. In the same competition, he completed 90 minutes six times already and Barkley is nowhere to be seen. Both Kovacic and Jorginho have stepped up their game and the Chelsea fans enjoy their partnership, which wasn’t the case last season. 

The Croatian lacked the final product, producing just two assists from 25 chances created while he also failed to score under Sarri and Lampard so far, with his last goal for club or country coming in January 2017 for Real Madrid. Despite not scoring for almost three years, Lampard improved Kovacic’s game. 

“I’m looking forward to working with him a lot. He was an amazing player and he showed last season that he is a good coach as well,” the Croatian told Chelsea’s official website in July. 

“I’m looking forward to learning how to score from him because he scored quite a lot and me not so much last season! I’m maybe not exactly the same type of midfielder as he was, but he had some strong abilities, especially scoring goals. 

“He was a hard worker, so I’m looking forward to being better in this aspect, in working hard, fighting on the pitch and scoring goals.” 

It has to be said that N’Golo Kante’s injury helped pave the way for Kovacic’s frequent inclusion in the starting eleven and he has done more than anyone expected to fill in for the French midfielder. The 25-year-old has shown himself to have excellent defensive work-rate, running back into his area in Kante-like style, giving his all to help Chelsea’s back four. 

In 12 Premier League games so far this season, only Cesar Azpilicueta (28) and Jorginho (27) have made more tackles than Kovačić’s 25 though the Croatian’s have come at a better rate of 

2.82 per 90 minutes. The best evidence of Kovacic’s improvement is his display in 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace last weekend. Kovacic rivaled Christian Pulisic for the man-of-the-match award in Saturday's game, and the likes of BBC even acknowledged his efforts on the pitch by announcing him as the man-of-the-match. He played more passes and recovered the ball on more occasions than anyone else on the pitch. 

His numbers this season testify to one of the broadest skillsets in the Premier League. The Croatian has completed the seventh-most dribbles and has the best dribble success rate of all players with 20 or more dribbles. He also ranks seventh for passes in the opposition half and has the fourth-best passing accuracy of all players with 350 or more opposition half passes. 

The Times even wrote the following after the game against Palace last weekend: “Kovacic is integral to the way Chelsea move the ball quickly from back to front and more often than not manage to bolt the door when they have to deal with an opposition counterattack.” 

If Kovacic improves his goalscoring record, only the sky will be his limit. On the other side, it will be interesting to see what Lampard will do once Kante is fit again, which he will be once the international break is over. With Mason Mount being outstanding as well, the English manager will have a lot to think about when they face the Premier League champions, Manchester City, next Saturday. 

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Monday, 1 July 2019

Mateo Kovačić Officially Signs for Chelsea, Sets New Croatian Transfer Record

Although Chelsea was banned from signing new contracts this year, the Premier League club managed to keep Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić thanks to his loan from Real Madrid. 

It's official - English Premier League club Chelsea have officially signed Mateo Kovačić for 45 million euro, which should be the club’s only signing this summer, HRT reports on July 1, 2019.

The Croatian representative has thus signed a five-year contract, which will take him through 2024. Despite Chelsea's transfer ban, Kovačić was able to sign as he spent the last season at Stamford Bridge on loan from Real Madrid. Kovačić’s transfer has set a new record for the biggest transfer of a Croatian footballer. With this signing, Kovačić has broken his own record of 28 million euro, which is what Real Madrid paid to sign him from Inter in August 2015.

 "I really enjoyed my season on loan with Chelsea, I feel comfortable at the club and like London and the Premier League very much. I am very happy to be able to join permanently. "We had a successful year, winning the Europa League and I hope I can make a big contribution in the coming seasons," said Kovačić.

"Mateo proved that he is a capable player last season and we are delighted to be able to welcome him on a permanent basis. “He already possesses extensive experience at club and international level and we are sure he will be a big success with Chelsea over the next five years,” said Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia.

Kovačić played 51 games for Chelsea last season and achieved 92 percent in successful passes. He won the Europa League with the Premier League club and in the next season, he has a good chance at becoming one of the club’s leading players. 

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Thursday, 30 May 2019

Mateo Kovačić Enters History After Europa League Title with Chelsea

Mateo Kovačić entered prestigious company after claiming the Europa League title with Chelsea on Wednesday night in Baku. 

Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovačić became only the second Croatian footballer to win the Champions League and the Europa League! Before him, only Ivan Rakitić has succeeded, reports Gol.hr on May 29, 2019, 

Kovačić celebrated in the Champions League last season with Real Madrid, while this season he won the Europa League with Chelsea. Rakitić had a different path. He first won the Europa League with Sevilla, and then won the Champions League in the ranks of Barcelona.

Kovačić has also won his fourth European trophy in a row, something not even the best of the best footballers can boast. Recall, in the last three seasons he won the Champions League title with Real Madrid, and on Wednesday the Europa League title with Premier League club Chelsea.

The Chelsea midfielder also became the ninth Croatian footballer to celebrate the UEFA Cup or the Europa League. Thus far, Mladen Ramljak, Luka Peruzović, Mario Stanić, Ivica Olić, Ivica Križanac, Darijo Srna, Ivan Rakitić, and Šime Vrsaljko have done the same. 

Chelsea has won the Europa League for the second time in history. However, Sevilla still holds the record and has celebrated the title five times. 

Recall, Chelsea won the competition for the first time after defeating Benfica in 2013.

Mateo Kovačić played excellent in the Chelsea jersey in the final, collecting 76 minutes and participated in the first three Chelsea goals. Kovačić also achieved 91% of successful passes. Kovačić completed a 3 in dribbling, with Hazard only at 5. Kovačić also held 7% of possession, with Xhaka only at 8.4%.

Twitter even went crazy for Kovačić last night after his stellar performance. You can read some of the comments of praise below. 

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Friday, 4 January 2019

Meet Christian Pulisic, Croatian-American Joining Chelsea for €64m

Christian Pulisic became the most expensive American footballer in history after Premier League club Chelsea agreed to pay Borussia Dortmund €64 million for the 20-year-old Croatian-American and member of the USA national team. Pulisic will move to London at the end of the season, reports Gol.hr on January 4, 2019. 

For Pulisic, this transfer in some way brings him back to his roots. As a boy, he spent a year in England while his mother Kelley worked as a teacher and father Mark trained in coaching. 

It was a time when football in America had not yet caught the momentum it has today; in England, a young Christian was infested by the football culture, and it was precisely this period of his life that directed his energy towards professional football.

Christian’s parents played football at George Mason University where they met. His father was also a professional indoor footballer, though he didn’t want his son to follow his footballing footsteps - he even pushed him in the other direction, his father revealed later. 

However, Christian’s football genes and experience from England, which was fixed in his memory since he was a child, drove Pulisic to a professional career. He soon popped on the radar of many scouts as one of the greatest talents ever to appear in the United States, though the quickest to jump on Pulisic was Borussia Dortmund, who brought him over as a 16-year-old.

Pulisic hails from Hershey, Pennsylvania, popularly referred to as the ‘town of chocolate’ and the ‘sweetest place in the world’ - you’ve most likely made the connection by now that the Hershey Company, one of the world's largest chocolate manufacturers, comes from here. 

Christian’s grandfather, Mate, comes from the Adriatic island of Olib. Thanks to his grandfather, Christian received Croatian citizenship, which facilitated his early departure to Germany. Christian even received an offer to play for the Croatia national team, though he refused and chose to represent the United States instead. He may be regretting that decision after the 2018 World Cup.

Pulisic was not even fully grown when he debuted for the United States against Guatemala, becoming the youngest American player to take part in the World Cup qualifiers. He then became the youngest goalscorer of the modern era, the youngest goalscorer of two goals in a single game and the youngest captain in the history of the United States, wearing the band at only 20 years and 63 days.

We do not know exactly what Christian’s motives were in choosing the United States over Croatia, but this move has surely raised his market value. Today, at just 20 years old, Pulišić is the face of US football, a sport that is just now experiencing great expansion in the country. 

The biggest international clubs are not just playing random tournaments in the US; it is a growing and affluent market that opens up many possibilities. By buying the largest brand of US football, Chelsea has secured a good position in the race for continuously attracting US dollars.

"He is a great talent, and if you consider his marketing value as the best US player of the generation, this job is not at all expensive. He is a player who has drawn the attention of many English clubs; he brings incredible value to attracting fans from the US, which is a key market for many English clubs for obvious reasons,” German football expert Raphael Honigstein told Sky Sports.

Chelsea's owner is still Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, although he moved his headquarters to Tel Aviv. After delays in renewing his UK visa, Abramovich, as a Russian Jew, was granted Israeli citizenship. It is speculated that he will sell the club he took over in 2003.

"It could make it easier for Chelsea if he doesn’t sell the club, but take advantage of America's many opportunities. If Roman Abramovich is considering selling the club, this job looks like a clever business move," said Honigstein.

Of course, apart from business, there is also an issue in the football itself. Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri said that he had no idea the club brought over Pulisic, who is currently not in the starting eleven on Bundesliga's leading squad.

English wunderkind Jadon Sancho and young Danish player Jacob Bruun Larsen pushed Pulisic to the bench; this season, he began five of the 11 league games he made an appearance.

However, Pulisic's talent is unquestionable and does not necessarily mean that Chelsea will be only a magnet for US dollars. He is marked as the potentially the best footballer in US history and a rare US ‘soccer superstar’ - and he has plenty of time to fulfill his potential. We'll see what Maurizio Sarri can pull out of the young footballer. 

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