On Wednesday, Croatia travel to Minsk to take on Belarus, a match that is vital for Josip Simunic and his team-mates' bid to finish second in Group 6 of European Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
Not everything has gone according to plan during the campaign thus far, however. They are currently second in the group, level with Ukraine after six matches but ten points behind an England team that already have one foot in South Africa. Belarus in fourth are a mere two points adrift of the potential play-off spot.
After coming third at France 1998, Croatia are desperate to qualify for their fourth ever FIFA World Cup finals but will have to up their game in the remaining matches if they are to do so.
Before Wednesday's crucial clash, central defender Simunic took the time to talk to FIFA.com about new club Hoffenheim, his native Australia and of course the South Africa 2010 qualifiers.
FIFA.com: Josip, what are your impressions after your first few weeks at new club Hoffenheim?
Josip Simunic: Surprisingly good. The first few weeks have gone really well. I feel as if I've already been in Hoffenheim for years. I've had no problems at all settling in and was really made to feel welcome by my team-mates.
Hoffenheim got off to an incredible start last season and were top at the winter break, but found life harder in the second half of the season. Will they be more consistent this time around?
The second half of the season was nowhere near as bad as people have made out. Hoffenheim had terrible luck with injuries with a number of key players out for weeks if not months, and the team couldn't cope. This year the squad has been bolstered in terms of quality and quantity, and I'm sure that we will be up there throughout the season.
As a Croatian international I imagine you also want to be playing European football for your club. Is that what Hoffenheim are aiming for this season?
The club haven't come out and said how high they want to finish in the league this season, and they would have been wrong to do so. You only have to look at last season to see how quickly things can change in football. We want to try to match what we achieved last season and to treat our fans to some more attacking and attractive football.
At 31 you are one of the oldest players in coach Ralf Rangnick's squad. What do you think your role will be within the team, in particular with regard to the young players?
Timo Hildebrand and I are among the more experienced members of the squad, and it is our job to set an example to the younger players and help them to continue their development, both on and off the pitch. Since they got promotion to the Bundesliga, a lot of veteran players like Selim Teber, Jochen Seitz and Francisco Copado have left the club, and I will be trying to make up for their absences using my experience.
If we manage to win our two games against Belarus though, we will have every chance of getting through.
You were born in Australia, in Canberra. How much contact do you still have with the country and in particular with Australian football and the Socceroos?
Australia is my home, it's where I was born and brought up so I'm obviously very interested in Australian football. I get regular updates via the Internet and have been surprised at how the new professional league is developing. The international team has also come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
You made your debut for Croatia in November 2001. Were the Australian FA too slow off the mark or did you make a conscious decision to play for Croatia?
The Australian FA never got in touch with me, so when I was given the opportunity to play for my parents' country, I took it. I was and still am very proud to play for Croatia.
You have already featured at two FIFA World Cups. What do you remember most about the 2002 and 2006 tournaments?
I have very fond memories of them, even though at the time we were very disappointed to go out at an early stage. A World Cup is always a very special experience for a footballer.
Croatia took part in the past three FIFA World Cup finals, but things are not quite going according to plan in qualifying for South Africa 2010. How would you say things have gone so far in European Zone Group 6?
Up until now we have put in some good performances but not got the results. We only managed draws in our two matches with Ukraine, even though we were the better team. If we manage to win our two games against Belarus though, we will have every chance of getting through.
As you mention, Belarus will be your next opponents, on 12 August, and if they win they will overtake you. How do you see the match in Minsk panning out?
It will be a tough one for us. They have Aleksandr Hleb in their ranks who is an exceptionally talented player, but if we play solidly and as a team, we will be able to get by them.
Your remaining matches after that are against Belarus again, England and Kazakhstan. What are you looking to get out of those three ties?
We're taking it one game at a time. We have to beat Belarus before we can even think about the match against England.