Croatia thrust themselves back into contention at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE with a hard-fought 1-0 defeat of Panama on Monday. Their hopes of a place in the last 16 revived, the Croatians can also take heart from the performance of star forward Ante Roguljic, who conjured up one of the goals of the tournament so far to sink the Central Americans, weaving past several defenders and scoring with a firm low cross-shot.
As talented and expressive on the pitch as he is reserved off it, the youngster from Split told FIFA.com what his match-winning strike against the Panamanians meant to him: “I like to score nice goals and there’s no better feeling than hearing the crowd react when they see a good move. I enjoy doing moves like that. I like dribbling past opponents and breaking into the box with the ball at my feet. It goes without saying, though, that it doesn’t always come off.”
The Balkan side’s 3-1 loss to Morocco in their opening match had the whole team concerned, especially as it stretched the country’s win-less run in the U-17 World Cup competition to three games. As Roguljic confirmed, he and his team-mates were aware of that sequence: “We came here determined to succeed because of what happened before, and after losing the first match it was absolutely vital for us to go and win the second. The fact we went out and did that has given us more confidence and we’re more than ready now for the last game, when we’ll be fighting for a place in the next round.”
Facing the Croatians in that final game in Group C are unbeaten Uzbekistan, who have shown plenty of solidity in defence so far and no lack of guile on the counter. The two teams meet in Fujairah on Thursday, and the Croatian striker knows very well what to expect: “We’ve watched their games and we know they’re a strong side. There are lots of things we need to be worried about but what we’re most concerned about is putting in a good performance ourselves.
“We’ve been working hard and talking things through, and no one should be in any doubt about us giving it our very best shot. We’re convinced we’ll make it to the last 16.”
Roguljic is one of three members of his squad who play in the Austrian league, which, with its physical and pacy style, is a popular destination for Croatian players. Explaining his reasons for moving to Austria, Roguljic, who runs out for second division side FC Liefering, said: “I was given the option of going and it seemed an interesting choice to me. The Austrian league is very competitive. They move the ball around faster and the players are quicker.
“I struggled to begin with because the style is very different to what I’m used to in Croatia. I didn’t feel comfortable and it took me a while to settle in. Things are going really well now, though. I’ve scored quite a few goals and I hope to succeed in the league.”
Assisting him on the pitch in the UAE is his close friend Alen Halilovic, who has already made a name for himself in his short career by becoming the Croatian league’s youngest ever debutant, goalscorer and championship winner. As far as the teenage goal-getter is concerned, having such a talented partner in the front line is a blessing that makes his job all the easier.
“We’re big friends and he’s my room-mate for the tournament,” he said of Halilovic. “It’s a pleasure to be in the same team as him because he’s one of those players who can do something that leaves you with a tap-in or through on goal with just the keeper or to beat. We have a great understanding, both when we’re playing and when we’re not, and we hope to achieve big things together.”