With six goals to his credit he won the adidas Golden Boot as the top goalscorer at the World Cup France 98, and his success played a big part in Croatia's winning third place. Davor Suker, one of the best central strikers in the world, talks about the World Cup, his country and Real Madrid.
FIFA Magazine:What does it mean to you and your team mates to have won third place at the World Cup?
Davor Suker: It was a moment of great satisfaction for me and my team mates to have achieved this feat in our first World Cup appearance, because we brought great happiness to our people and have proved our footballing qualities, which some of us showed when Yugoslavia won the 1987 World Youth Championship in Chile (Suker, Boban and Prosinecki were members of that squad, ed.).
Were you surprised that Croatia did so well in its first appearance at the tournament?
I have to be honest. Our performance at the World Cup finals was a tremendous surprise to my teammates and myself, but we had always thought that that we had the skill, passion and determination to do something special. But nothing this great though, especially at our first try!
By emerging as top scorer at the World Cup, you have etched your name into football's history books. What does that mean to you?
There is no doubt that it is a great achievement and I would be lying if I said it did not mean a lot to me. But as I said during the tournament and will say now, it was never a priority to win this award, as long as the Croatian team did well. Even when we played the third place match against Holland, it was the last thing on my mind. Winning was always the most important thing.
When you got to the semi-finals, did you really think that Croatia could beat France and reach the finals or were you satisfied with what you had achieved?
When we got as far as the semifinals, I must confess that I had big dreams of beating France and playing Brazil in the Final. When we scored the first goal, I was almost certain that we were going to achieve this but our lead only lasted for a minute, which was unfortunate. That's football for you.
"To beat Germany was the most memorable moment at the World Cup."
What was your most memorable period at the World Cup finals?
Without a doubt, it was our victory over Germany. It brought great joy to me and the millions of people watching the game back home.
What lies ahead for Croatian football? Do you think that the national team can stay at the top of the world game?
I predict a bright future for our football, for the simple reason that we have an abundance of talent that can push Croatia forward on the global stage. In my opinion, we have the most talented set of players in Europe. I suppose one has to acknowledge the fact that it is one thing to get to the top and a completely different thing to stay there, but I am sure that my generation of players will still have something left in us to put up a good showing at the next European Championship.
You had to make progress in your Spanish football career when the Balkan war was at its worst point. Was it easy playing football when you thought of your friends and family back home, caught in the thick of a war that claimed many lives?
I think it was the most difficult period of my life. When you are playing football in a country that is peaceful and are make steady progress, you feel a bit guilty when you remember that there were a lot of people suffering back home. But I always hoped that my exploits would give a little joy to the fans who followed my career with keen interest.
Your goal against Denmark (at the '96 European Championship, ed.) was a classic. Do you think it's one of the best goals that you have ever scored?
Certainly. It is not easy to beat a quality goalkeeper like Peter Schmeichel way I did. It is one of those moments that will remain a high point of my career. It was a great goal, even if I may say so myself...
You played for Osijek and the formerly named Dinamo Zagreb. What are your memories about your career in Croatia?
It was the place where everything started for me. If I hadn't had the chance to play there at the time I did, may not have had the chance to begin a professional career in Spain.
You did not have a good time with Real Madrid last season. What do you think was responsible for this?
It was the lack of confidence that my former trainer, Jupp Heynckes, had in my abilities as a striker. Despite that, I have to be honest enough to say that my injuries and a long streak of bad luck on the pitch did not help my cause. Real Madrid had its most successful period in 32 years last season and it was painful that I did not play an active role in winning the Champions League.
How do you compare your new coach, Guus Hiddink, to Heynckes?
There is no doubt that both are famous trainers. In my opinion, the Netherlands team which Hiddink coached in France played the most attractive football of the World Cup finals. I agree with his football ideas, personality and coaching methods. As for Heynckes, it was unfortunate that he had no feeling for the way I played football but I was fortunate that Miroslav Blazevic, my national coach, did.
Would you want to finish your career in Madrid or would you want to move after a few years?
I've always said that I will finish my career with Club Croatia in Zagreb and that is what I still intend to do.
Your teammate, Slaven Bilic, received a lot of criticism for the problem with Laurent Blanc in the semi-final. What did you make of this?
The truth of the matter is that Blanc deserved to be excluded from the Final for what he did to my team mate in that game but the French people and supporters did not want to acknowledge this fact, which I suppose is a natural reaction. But the way they booed Bilic each time he touched the ball following that incident was most unfair.
What are your interests outside football?
Listening to good music, reading a good book and watching interesting films. I also watch other sports like basketball, tennis and boxing as well.
What do you think are the strong points of the Croatian team?
I think that our best characteristics are our good individual qualities as well as close friendship between the players. We all have a never say die spirit whenever we wear the colours of our country, which helps a lot when we are playing difficult matches.
What are your ambitions with Real Madrid this season?
My immediate ambition is to help the team win the championship.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career in Spain?
The time I got the chance to move to Real Madrid from Seville. I think that the Spanish league is the most competitive in the world. That's obvious from the calibre of players that come to play here. Since I moved to Madrid, the tough competition has helped me to improve my football. I think everyone can see that...
What would do you plan to do with your life when you quit football?
I was thinking of a career in journalism but I may get over my reservations about coaching and do that. I think I still have a few years as a player, so it gives me time to decide.