Croatian Dilemmas for the World Cup
- Kranjcar & Kranjcar: In The Name Of The Son
Ozren Podnar reports...
The greatest handicap for the Croatian national team in the World
Cup could be the single mindedness of the national team coach Zlatko
Kranjcar, who persistently protects his
son Niko as an unmovable element in the team.
Kranjcar senior stayed undaunted even after a widespread media
campaign against Niko's status or the fans' treatment of his son
during the friendly against Iran in Osijek which ended 2-2.
If the boos at Kranjcar junior in Zagreb can
be alternatively explained by Dinamo-Hajduk club rivalry (Niko switched
from Dinamo to Hajduk in 2005, earning himself an eternal hatred
among the fans in the capital), in the "neutral" city
of Osijek, such boos can only mean one thing: the people don't like
the way he plays.
Even though the press stated that "it is difficult to win
games playing with one player less on the field", alluding
to an insufficient contribution to the overall effort by the young
Kranjcar, his father did not change his rhetoric, on the contrary:
"The voice of the people? Here's a message to everybody occupying
themselves with this issue: let them lose all hope, because Niko
will keep on playing," said the coach, who in his playing days
was a better footballer than his son - so far, at least.
Kranjcar, 49 last November, was an extraordinary forward or
offensive midfielder at both Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Wien, scoring
over 200 goals in the Yugoslav and Austrian first division, respectively.
As well as his skill, he was a mobile and a dynamic player, always
involved in the offensive maneuver.
His son, aged 21, has a superb technique, devastating shot and
a good pass, but is rather static and has a habit of hiding himself
during a game. His weight of 83 kg has also been an issue, supposedly
being 4-5 kilos above the ideal number. Many people doubt he is
currently capable of responding to the demands of the modern soccer,
but his father is not one of them.
Of course, Zlatko does not see himself as his father when picking
players is involved.
"During the World Cup, Niko is not my son," remarked
the coach. "The team needs Niko, his teammates have full confidence
There is no doubt that only an injury can prevent Kranjcar from
being fielded by Kranjcar in the forthcoming games against Brazil
(June 13th), Japan
(June 18th) and Australia
And it is easy to predict who will be singled out as
scapegoat(s) if Croatia is sent home packing after the first round.
Niko Kranjcar Factfile
Born: August 13th 1984 in Zagreb
Height: 184 cm
Weight: 83 kg
2001-04 Dinamo Zagreb 85 appearances, 19 goals
2005-06 Hajduk Split 45 appearances, 12 goals
2004-06 Croatia 21 appearances, 3 goals
2 League Championships (2003 and 2006)
3 FA Cups (2001, 2002 and 2004)