Nikica Jelavic believes Croatia can spoil the party against Brazil in opening game of the World Cup
Taking on the favourites and host nation Brazil in the opening match of the World Cup is not a game many opponents would like to take on, but for Croatia the clash holds no fear for them as they aim to do their country proud.
By Pete O'Rourke - Follow me: @skysportspeteo
Last Updated: 12/06/14 10:12am
All the eyes of the world be on Sao Paulo on Thursday night when World Cup favourites Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia, but Nikica Jelavic believes his countrymen can make the world sit up and take notice by shocking the host nation.
From the outside most people will be expecting Brazil to get their World Cup campaign off to a winning start against Croatia, but try telling that to Jelavic and his team-mates.
Hull City striker Jelavic, who is hoping to start against Brazil in the absence of the suspended Mario Mandzukic, is not fearing the task of taking on the five-time World Cup winners on home soil, but is rather relishing the opportunity of playing in one of the biggest games of his career.
Croatia are not here to make the numbers and Jelavic believes they have the quality in their squad to compete against the best the world has to offer.
Jelavic, who scored the winning goal in their final warm-up game against fellow World Cup hopefuls Australia, feels Croatia's fighting spirit can take them a long way in Brazil and he admits representing his country at a World Cup finals will be one of the proudest moments of his career after Croatia missed out on the 2010 finals in South Africa.
Will playing at a World Cup with your country be the biggest moment of your career?
The World Cup is the pinnacle of any player’s career and it will be a major honour to represent my country in Brazil. I am very patriotic and to play for Croatia is always a proud moment for me so it will definitely be one of the biggest moments of my career to date.
What did qualifying for Brazil mean to people back home?
Qualifying for the World Cup was what the Croatian people wanted and expected and we were delighted to achieve our aims. Our fans, I believe, are the most passionate in world football and I know lots of them will be travelling to support us in Brazil and there will also be great interest from our fans back home during the tournament. We want to try and make them all proud of us.
How keen are Croatia to do well at the World Cup after missing out on the 2010 finals?
We are extremely motivated to do well at this World Cup as we were disappointed to miss out on South Africa four years ago. The players are all determined to make an impact in Brazil and make up for not being able to take part. The World Cup is the biggest stage in football and every player wants to be playing in these types of tournaments.
It is a new generation of Croatian players, but can you spring a surprise in Brazil like at France '98?
I believe we have got the quality and experience in the squad to enjoy success in Brazil. In France '98, that was seen as the golden generation of Croatian football and there were some great players in that team, but we have some top players now and if we play to our potential we can prove a match for any team.
Who are the key men of the current Croatian side?
There are no real superstars in the Croatian side as it is a real team ethic that has got us to the World Cup. Obviously we have some players at some of the top clubs in the world with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, who both helped their clubs win the Champions League and Europa League this season.
What are your hopes for Brazil? What are your chances of progression?
I think we can do well at the World Cup as we certainly have the players to enjoy a successful tournament. We are confident of getting out of our group and in the knock-out stages anything can happen. With a little bit of luck we will be able to go far in the tournament.
How exciting will it be to kick off the tournament against host nation Brazil?
It will be very exciting to start the tournament against the hosts of Brazil and all the eyes of the world will be on both teams as it will be the start of such a massive event. All the pressure will be on Brazil in that game and we will go into it with nothing to lose and hopefully we can pull off a shock.
What do you make of your rivals in Group A - Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon?
We have been drawn in a tough group, but in a tournament like the World Cup whatever group you are in it is going to be tough because the teams here are the best in the world and have proved that by qualifying. Brazil will be favourites to win the group as they are the favourites to win the tournament, but we are confident we can at least finish second and reach the next round, even though it will be difficult against Mexico and Cameroon as they are two experienced teams who are used to playing in the World Cup.
How important was it for you to leave Everton for Hull and regular first-team action ahead of the World Cup?
I felt I had to leave Everton in January because I was not playing as much as I wanted to be and I needed to be playing to make sure of my place in the Croatia team. Things have gone well at Hull City since my move there and I am feeling in peak condition ahead of going to Brazil.
Interview courtesy of Crown Football, Crown Talent And Media Group