Both in his native Croatia as well as in Ukraine, Darijo Srna is considered one of the biggest football stars around. The midfielder recently earned his 100th international cap for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ participants and is a leading figure in the Shakhtar Donetsk side currently in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
On Tuesday evening the Ukrainians will lock horns once more with Borussia Dortmund, following a 2-2 draw in the first leg. With a crucial 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Serbia also coming up for the Croatia captain, FIFA.com took the chance to speak to him about facing the reigning Bundesliga champions, the difficulties of reaching Brazil 2014 and the importance of family during his successful career.
FIFA.com: You have played for Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine since 2003 and seem to feel at home there.
Darijo Srna: Donetsk and Ukraine are my second home. I grew up at Shakhtar and have achieved great things both domestically and internationally with the club. My family and I are happy here and it makes me very proud to be captain now. I'd like to finish my career in Ukraine and afterwards I'd like to give my hometown club Hajduk Split something back of what they gave me as a young player.
You just mentioned your impressive trophy haul with Shakhtar. Are titles what motivate you?
Titles are the main objective for any player. We won the championship and the UEFA Cup and now we want to win the Champions League. Our fans invest all their love and more in this club so it’s up to us to give something back to them. Shakhtar is the symbol of the city and this region and we see that at every home game when more than 40,000 fans get behind us.
In order to win the Champions League you first have to get past Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16. What did you make of the 2-2 draw in the first leg?
Borussia Dortmund are one of the best teams in the whole of Europe. It was the first competitive game of the year for us, as we'd only played friendlies until then. That wasn't easy. Dortmund have some exceptional players and ruthlessly took advantage of the only two mistakes we made.
The decisive return leg in Dortmund is just days away. What are you expecting from the game?
We'll have to play even better in Dortmund to stand a chance of reaching the quarter-finals. It'll be a fantastic match in a spectacular setting. The stadium will be sold out but it won't be our first time playing against a team with so many fans behind them. Dortmund are favourites, but I'd estimate our chances to be around 40 per cent. We'll fight until the last second and give everything because we believe in our ability.
Your position as team captain becomes even more important in matches like this. How do you interpret the role?
We're one big family in Donetsk. As captain I obviously listen to what every player has to say and I especially help the younger players settle in. It all comes very naturally to us as we're a close unit both on and off the pitch.
You are also captain of the Croatian national team. How do your experiences at club level help you with the role in the international set-up?
I owe it to my club coach Mircea Lucescu that I'm also captain of Croatia. He gave me the chance to prove myself in the role and showed belief in my abilities by making me captain. It helped me grow into the position before doing the same for Croatia. It makes me very proud to represent my country, one of the best footballing nations in the world.
You recently made your 100th international appearance for your homeland. How proud are you to have reached that milestone?
I always try to help Croatia when I play. I feel great right now and am still a long way off being too old for the national team. I'm very thankful for everything I've achieved in my life and none of it would have been possible without the constant support of my family. I've always fought hard and have never given up. Even now I'm still looking to the future and take everything that comes in a positive manner. I owe that attitude to the people closest to me, who have always been there for me.
You were just 16 when Croatia finished third at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. Why do you think your country hasn't been able to emulate that success since?
The 1998 team was part of a great generation with extraordinary players. Third place at the World Cup in France was a great result for a small country like ours. Since then we've often just been missing the little bit of luck needed to be successful. For example in the EURO 2008 quarter-finals when we narrowly lost out to Turkey. However, I still believe in our team as we have very good players now too.
Croatia missed out entirely on the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa. What do you remember from that unsuccessful qualifying campaign?
Failing to reach the 2010 World Cup was the biggest disappointment of my international career. The necessary bit of luck just wasn't on our side. The team and coach were fantastic, but that's just the way football is. Now we need to look to the future and not repeat the same mistakes we made in the past.
It seems to be working, as you've made a great start to Brazil 2014 qualifying. What do you make of your position in second place in qualifying Group A of the European zone?
We got drawn in a very difficult group but after these first few games we want to qualify directly for the World Cup. We need to finish top in order to do that. It'll be tough but not impossible. Belgium have a tremendous team - the best they've ever had in my opinion - and they also have a very good coach. Nevertheless, we still managed to play well in Brussels and were rewarded with a point.
On 22 March you face Serbia, who are already six points behind. Victory would go a long way to guaranteeing a top two finish.
The game against Serbia will be decisive because if we win then we have an 80 per cent chance of finishing second in the group and they would be out of the running. However, I'd like to emphasise that the history between our countries can't be changed on the pitch, despite our on-field rivalry. We play football. None of us can change the past, but we can influence the future. Now we have to lead by example and put on a great match together, without any scandals. Our opponents have a very good team and I respect them a lot.
After Germany 2006, Brazil 2014 would be your second FIFA World Cup. What would it mean to you to participate there?
Of course, qualifying for Brazil 2014 would be fantastic but I'll be there even if the team doesn't make it. My team-mate Eduardo, who has Brazilian roots, has already invited me to visit him there.
Friends and family appear to be very important to you and you have a tattoo with your brother's name on your chest. How important are your relationships to you?
My brother Igor and I have a very special connection. He’s delighted that I’ve been successful and I’m happy I can help him and my family. My family are the most important thing in the world for me, especially my daughter and my wife. I’m happy to be able to say that I go to bed at night with a smile on my face and wake up with a smile too.
You’re active socially in Ukraine and invite orphans to Shakhtar’s matches. Where does your social involvement come from?
I don’t like speaking about my social involvement in public. I will say this though: I think it’s unbelievable that there are children in this world who have to grow up without parents. I just want to help them a little bit. That’s what my family taught me.