Croatian football coach credits his country’s resilience for World Cup success


Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Sun 11 Dec 2022, 1:38 AM

Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

Croatia’s wonderful run at the Qatar World Cup has failed to surprise Tommy, a former second-division footballer in the Croatian league who has been coaching the academy team of the Al Ahli Club in Qatar for the past six years.

Tommy may have been a former footballer who now coaches young players for a living, but when he goes to a stadium for a World Cup match featuring Croatia, he becomes a fan again.

“Yes, I will always remain a fan in my heart. I became a footballer because I fell in love with football. Now I am a coach only because I love this sport so much,” Tommy told this reporter.

Tommy says the indomitable spirit of his country is the secret to the success of the Croatian national football team on the biggest of stages.

“We are proud of our country, we give everything when we defend the colours of our country,” he said.

“We are a small country of just four million people, but we have big results and big athletes.

“But technically if you ask me, why this team has been successful, then I think we have found the right blend of old and new.

“It’s a good mix of the younger ones and the old ones from the 2018 World Cup that reached the World Cup final in Russia. Some of our young players are very talented.”

One such talented young player is Joško Gvardiol, the 20-year-old defender who has been among the outstanding players in this Qatar World Cup.

“We have Joško Gvardiol at the centre of defence. I think soon he is going to break the world record for the transfer fee,” Tommy predicted.

“In fact, if he was Spanish or Brazilian, his prize would have gone up to 200 million already. This World Cup is actually a stepping stone for a lot of our good young players.”

Tommy says it means a lot to be watching Croatia at the World Cup in Qatar, his second home.

“This World Cup is everything for me. I am so happy to be able to watch Croatia here. And also so proud of Qatar for organising this so well,” he said.

“All my friends of Croatia who have come here, they have loved this tournament and this country.”

While Tommy is incredibly proud of Croatia’s run to the 2018 World Cup final, it’s the country’s semifinal appearance on their World Cup debut in 1998 that remains close to his heart.

“I was 18. Those were the last days of my life as a footballer,” recalled Tommy whose own career was cut short by a knee injury.

“I remember every match in that World Cup. Davor Suker (the star striker of the 1998 Croatian World Cup team who scored six goals in the tournament) was my idol when I was younger and playing football because I was also a striker.

“We were a very new country, but we showed what we can do.”

This reporter met Tommy before Croatia stunned Brazil in the quarterfinal on Friday.

When I asked him how far Croatia can go in Qatar, he replied: “I can’t say that they will win the World Cup here, but I think they can go until the last round (final).”

Luka Modric and his team made Tommy and every Croat proud by fighting until the end against Brazil before beating the five-time world champions on penalties.

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