Croatian captain Boris Zivkovic tells TheFA.com about the new generation of tale
Croatian captain Boris Zivkovic tells TheFA.com about the new generation of talent emerging from his Balkan homeland...
New Portsmouth signing Boris Zivkovic has been charged with the responsibility of leading his country into a new football era.
Zivkovic arrived at Fratton Park from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen on a free transfer, and after just one game for his new club, is set to captain his country tonight.
His manager on the south coast, Harry Redknapp, describes the 27-year-old right-back as "a quality signing. You don't play that amount of times for Leverkusen, as well as captaining your country, unless you have more than a little class about you."
Zivkovic is playing for a Croatia team that is currently rebuilding for the future following a 'golden period' in the country's football history.
Between 1996 and 2002 the national team, comprising the likes of Zvonimir Boban, Alen Boksic, Davor Suker, Robert Jarni and the mercurial Robert Prosinecki, made it to the quarter-finals of Euro '96, before reaching a pinnacle by finishing third at France 98.
"They were a great side," says the defender, "with many great players who played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe."
And what of the current crop that are taking on the Three Lions tonight? "Our side is young and are learning," he says. "We have many good players coming through, as well as some experienced ones such as Igor Tudor who played for Juventus in last season's European Cup final. We also have Bosko Balaban, Ivica Olic, Anthony Seric and Dario Simic."
Despite the fact that Zivkovic has won 26 caps for his country, he has never faced England before, although he has encountered many of the players he will come up against tonight in European club competitions during his six years in Germany.
In fact, in the 2001/02 Champions League, Leverkusen eliminated Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, before losing in the final to Real Madrid.
"I know most of the England players from playing in Europe, and when we played Liverpool, Michael Owen did not score. Owen and David Beckham are both great, world-class players who everyone knows about, but they have many good players in their team, so it is going to be a very hard match," he adds.
Both England and Croatia currently lie second in their respective qualifying groups for Euro 2004, and, with vital fixtures still to be played this autumn that will decide both their fates, tonight will be an important exercise.
Zivkovic, for one, is confident that Croatia will be in Portugal next summer.
"We are in a difficult group, but if we win our remaining games, (against rivals Belgium and Bulgaria) then we will qualify."
by Richard Morgan
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