Olic: Croatia's quality will see us through
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Tireless battler Ivica Olic is the kind of player every coach loves to have at his disposal, because a balanced team has to include hard-working grafters to complement its trickier, more gifted individuals. The player nicknamed Ivi never gives less than 100 per cent, hunts down every loose ball, even in the dying minutes of already-settled matches, and is perfectly happy to put in a shift on behalf of his team-mates.

The Croatia striker had a first taste of the German Bundesliga with Hertha BSC Berlin some 14 years ago, and has plied his trade in the German top flight ever since, with only a couple of brief forays elsewhere in Europe. The powers that be and fellow players at Hamburg, Bayern Munich and now Wolfsburg have all come to know and respect the father of two for his impeccable character, model professionalism and cheery demeanour.

Naturally, Olic has made his mark on the international scene too, with 15 goals in 78 appearances for Croatia to date. Last November, he set his country on their way to UEFA EURO 2012 with the opening goal against Turkey in the first leg of the play-off, but to the normally jovial player’s huge dismay, he missed out on the continental showdown itself with injury.

FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the four-time Croatian Player of the Year about his career, a new challenge in Wolfsburg, and his dream of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil.

FIFA.com: Ivica, are you over the disappointment of not being able to play at the EURO?
Ivica Olic: I was very disappointed and it was a great shame I couldn't be there, but I’ve put it behind me. And because I wasn't at the EURO, I've been able to completely rid myself of injury.

There are rumours you've decided to retire from international football. Is it true?
I'm leaving it open. I've already spoken to the new national coach. He told me if I can play at the level which I expect from myself, and if I can still be of assistance to the national team, the door remains open. Playing for the national team is one of the biggest things you dream about as a kid. I've been doing it for almost ten years, and I'm grateful for that.

It's fair to say I've not scored that many goals, but they've been important ones.
Ivica Olic on his international scoring record

You've scored 15 goals for your country in 78 appearances. Which do you remember best of all?
It was my first goal for the national team, at [Korea/]Japan 2002 against Italy. I made the score 1-1, and we went on to win 2-1. I came on for the last half-hour. It was right at the start of my career, so it was really special. Later on, I scored against Germany, I scored in England against England, and against Turkey in the EURO 2012 play-offs. It's fair to say I've not scored that many goals, but they've been important ones.

The next highlight is already looming on the horizon. In the qualifying phase for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, you face Belgium, Scotland, FYR Macedonia, Wales and Serbia. Is it a manageable group?
It's actually a difficult group, and it definitely won't be easy. But Croatia are still favourites, although it's a role we have to live up to. Serbia are our main rivals, but it's always hard when you face Belgium and Scotland too. All the teams are capable of beating all the others, but I believe our quality will see us through in the end. We simply have to do it.

The games against Serbia will have a real edge. What's your view on that?
First up, Serbia are obviously very tough opponents. But second, it makes the players even more motivated. It's more than just a game of football. I personally know a number of Serbian players and have very good friends there. At the end of the day, I hope the football makes the headlines. May the better team win, that's what I'd like to see. I think we’ll finish ahead of Serbia, and I think we'll beat them. But if Serbia make it instead, I'll congratulate them. In my opinion, both teams have the quality to make the World Cup. That would be ideal.

Would the 2014 tournament would be a great way to end your career?
Definitely! Qualifying for the World Cup is our next target with the national team, and we’ll worry about everything else after that.

Croatia regularly appear in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and are often regarded as dark horses in tournaments, but you've tended to come up short of expectations. Why?
In 2008, we were unlucky to lose the quarter-final to Turkey. We had great expectations of EURO 2012 and wanted to improve on the previous tournament, but we were in an exceptionally tough group - after all, Spain and Italy eventually contested the final. And we lacked that little bit of luck, because we actually could have beaten Spain. We proved we’re capable of good football, but we can't rest on our laurels. I hope we continue to come on as a group in the future and regain our place in the world elite, although it's not easy. Croatia is a small country. If we lose two or three players to injury, it's a major problem.

You’re stepping up to a new challenge at club level. After spells in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, you’ve now joined Wolfsburg. What are your first impressions?
I’ve only been here a month, and we’ve spent all of that training. I found our tour of China very tiring, as we visited three different cities in six days. We didn’t do a lot apart from play. But everything’s gone well so far, and I’m delighted I’ve completed all the sessions.

What are your targets with Wolfsburg? It said in the press you were aiming for 15 goals.
What I meant by that was that I'd be delighted if it happened. But I don't set personal targets, because the team is always what matters to me. I want us to make the Europa League at the very least, but ideally Wolfsburg would qualify for the Champions League. Getting back into Europe is the first and most important goal for me and the team.

I could have stayed with Bayern another season, but I desperately wanted more games. After a month here, I can say I've made the right decision.
Olic on moving to Wolfsburg

Coach Felix Magath is known as a hard taskmaster. What do you think of his training methods?
Naturally, it's a bit different compared to my time with Bayern. The first two weeks at our training camp were really demanding, but we did more work with the ball after that. It's always more enjoyable when you have the ball at your feet, and the time passes more quickly. It was tough, but I'm delighted I've come through it. I feel really, really fit now. Felix Magath doesn't do what he does to torture his players, he wants us to improve and achieve peak fitness. I’ve basically got used to it now.

Naturally, it's a bit different compared to my time with Bayern. The first two weeks at our training camp were really demanding, but we did more work with the ball after that. It's always more enjoyable when you have the ball at your feet, and the time passes more quickly. It was tough, but I'm delighted I've come through it. I feel really, really fit now. Felix Magath doesn't do what he does to torture his players, he wants us to improve and achieve peak fitness. I’ve basically got used to it now.

Did you consider leaving Germany again?
Of course. I didn't make the decision to join Wolfsburg in the space of a week, I thought it over for a while. Wolfsburg wanted me last winter, but Bayern wouldn't release me. We stayed in touch, and I often spoke to Mr Magath. I've been abroad in the past, but I'm acclimatised to German football now. Wolfsburg are very ambitious, focused, and have good plans, which I liked. That's what I want. I could have stayed with Bayern another season, but I desperately wanted more games. After a month here, I can say I've made the right decision.

You have a two-year contract with Wolfsburg, after which you’ll be 34. Will you hang up your boots at that point?
It's hard to make plans as you age. If I'm fit, I could play on, but if I notice I can no longer hit my targets, I'll stop. But first I'm looking forward to two successful years with Wolfsburg, and then we'll see what happens.

You've achieved a great deal in your career. Is anything lacking?
I'm basically very satisfied, but obviously, I'd have really liked to win one of the two Champions League finals I played with Bayern Munich. I guess I won't get that chance again. With Wolfsburg I'd like at least one more season in Europe. This will be my first season out of European competition for a decade. I've achieved a lot, but I still have plenty of energy and desire for the future.

You’re renowned as a tireless battler who never throws in the towel and gives everything right to the end.
That's what I'm known for, and maybe that's why my career has gone the way it has. Otherwise I'd be a very ordinary player. But yes, those are my special strengths.

What will you do after hanging up your boots? Coaching? Club management?
I’ll definitely stay in the game, although I don’t yet know what I’ll do. Basically, football is my life.