(Reuters) - Croatia coach Niko Kovac and veteran striker Ivica Olic are role models setting an example to the rest of the squad for the World Cup finals, winger Ivan Perisic has said.
Perisic, who endured a patchy qualifying campaign before scoring twice in Saturday’s 2-1 friendly win over Mali, said Kovac’s no-nonsense approach would stand Croatia in good stead for the tournament in Brazil.
“Kovac has set the bar in line with his German-bred mentality that order, hard work and discipline are essential ingredients for good results,” Perisic told Croatian media on Tuesday before the team’s departure to Brazil.
”I was not surprised because he built his career in the Bundesliga, whose virtues I have become very familiar with myself and cherish the principles.
“Just to emphasize how much he is on the same wavelength with the squad, Kovac canceled a practice session when he and his staff sensed we were a little bit weary,” added the 25-year-old Wolfsburg player.
Germany-born Kovac spent the bulk of his career as a central midfielder in the Bundesliga, with Bayern Munich, Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin before ending it at Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg in 2009.
With top scorer Mario Mandzukic suspended for Croatia’s Group A opener against Brazil in Sao Paulo on June 12, the 42-year-old coach, who scored 14 goals in 83 international appearances, will rely on the evergreen 34-year-old Olic to lead the line.
Perisic acknowledged there was no better man to carry the mantle then his Wolfsburg team mate. Olic has won three league titles with CSKA Moscow and one with Bayern, and he reached two Champions League finals with the German giants.
“Olic runs like an 18-year-old, has the passion of an understudy and the hunger of a player in the early stages of his career,” Perisic said.
”I heard a lot about his commitment before I broke into the national team some years ago but only after I had seen him in action did I realize how much harder I had to work and change my habits in order to be even close to him.
“He became my role model and broadened my horizons at a crucial stage of my career, thus helping me choose the right path.”
Croatia, who are aiming to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 1998, when they reached the semi-finals, also play Cameroon in Manaus on June 18 and Mexico in Recife five days later.
Commenting on Croatia’s chances of upsetting Brazil, Perisic said: ”They are the tournament favorites and will no doubt come at us with the home crowd behind them, but we will try to take the game to them because they don’t like rivals who refuse to retreat.
“We can hold our own and I am pretty sure we are in with a shout.”
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; editing by Stephen Wood