Davorin Olivari, writes for Croatian Sports Daily Newspaper, Sportske Novosti, and was in Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup final draw. He fielded questions from Completesportsnigeria’s KAYODE OGUNDARE moments after the draw at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow. Here are excerpts from the chat…
What do you think about this draw, pitting your country against Nigeria, Argentina, and Iceland in one group?
My opinion is that it is one of the most interesting groups at the World Cup, and this has got nothing to do with the fact that my country is in the group. We all know Argentina and their World Cup pedigree. They have the most high profile players of all the teams in the group, including the incredible Lionel Messi. They have won two World Cups before and they reached the final of the last one in Brazil 2014. So Argentina is the team to beat in the group.
You seem to think very highly of the Argentines. So what are the chances of the three other teams, including your own Croatia?
I think Argentina is superior to the other teams in the group and I see them going through as group winners. The three other teams will have to battle for the second position and, in that, I think Croatia has a bit of an edge over Nigeria and Iceland. The margin between the three teams is not much but it is still there. So I think Croatia will get to the next round ahead of Nigeria.
You obviously know your team very well, but what do you know about the Nigerian team that gives you this optimism that Croatia will qualify ahead of the Super Eagles?
I know little about the current Super Eagles, but I know that in the past your team was very very strong. I remember 1994 in USA and at the Olympics in 1996. That Super Eagles is better than now. You had one of the best teams in the World. For me, Emmanuel Amuneke was your best player and I wonder why he’s not coaching this team now. I know he coached your under-17 team, but he should be coaching the senior team. He was good player and now a good coach.
How strong is Croatia, going to the World Cup, considering you had to go through the play-offs to qualify?
We have a very strong team. If we want to talk about names and the clubs they play for, we have Luka Modric, one of the best players in Real Madrid; Ivan Ratikic is in Barcelona, Mario Mandzukic at Juventus and Šime Vrsaljko at Atletico Madrid, but we know football is just more than a collection of players. Preparation is key and how prepared we are we shall see in June next year at the World Cup.
You don’t seem to reckon with Iceland at all? Don’t you think given that they topped the same qualifying group ahead of Croatia should earn them some respect from you?
Oh, no disrespect to Iceland. They have a very good team. They beat us away during the qualifiers, but this is the competition proper and our pedigree will show. Luckily, we play them last and hopefully they would have been knocked out by Argentina and Nigeria before we meet them.