A good playmaker can make a difference to any team, even one that is already blessed with two outstanding midfielders. While Croatia coach Niko Kovac is no doubt delighted with the tireless work of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic both on and off the ball, he needed something extra for his side’s all-important second group game against Cameroon. Which is why he turned to Sammir.
Even if the Brazilian-born, naturalised Croatian midfielder was not the game’s standout performer, the rhythm that he brought to the midfield when distributing the balls won by Modric and Rakitic and feeding an attack strengthened by Mario Mandzukic gave the team a balance that had been missing in the defeat to Brazil, and made a decisive contribution to Croatia’s impressive 4-0 win over the African side.
Although he did not create any goals, focusing instead on getting the simple things right, the midfielder was able to leave his mark on the game. “He (Kovac) put me in the game so that we would be able to keep possession, and to exchange passes with the other midfielders and create opportunities for the forwards,” Sammir told FIFA.com. “I’m happy with my performance, but I think I can play better. In fact the whole team can play better. We’re still evolving.”
In a team packed with stars, there is another reason why the 27-year-old is not intimidated by the responsibility of being a playmaker. “It’s easy to play with great players. I learn from them every day, in training and during games,” he explained. “I’m happy with the way I’m playing, and I hope they are too. They’re great players who play for the biggest teams in the world. It’s a privilege to play alongside them.”
Not even the pressure of making his FIFA World Cup debut in the country where he was born, in a game that could have eliminated his team, seemed to bother Sammir. “Playing in the World Cup in Brazil motivates me even more. All I can do is play, try and stay calm, and help Croatia in any way I can.”
The show must go on
Curiously, the player’s dream of going to the World Cup almost came to nothing. After representing Croatia in a number of qualifying games, Sammir lost his place, and his difficulties at Dynamo Zagreb at the end of 2013 put his trip to Brazil in doubt. Kovac continued to keep a close eye on the player even after he moved to Getafe in Spain, and although he did not pick him for the play-off game against Iceland, he did invite him to the preparatory training sessions that were held before the 23-man squad was announced. The midfielder needed no second invitation to remind Kovac of his talent and earn his spot.
After that reprieve, Sammir clearly feels he owes the coach for the second chance he has been given. “He trusted me. He came to Madrid to talk to me and said that he would be watching my performances. It motivated me to work even harder. Harder than ever, in fact,” he said. “I thought I would miss out on the World Cup, and now I’m going to do my best to meet his expectations.”
With his place guaranteed, two more of Sammir’s dreams were about to come true. First, he travelled with the team to Bahia, the state where he was born and where Croatia are based during the World Cup. Then, he formed part of the Croatian squad that faced Brazil in the Opening Match.
As it turned out, Sammir did not make it off the bench against A Seleção, his role in the occasion being limited to seeing some of his old teammates again, such as Fernandinho, with whom he played in the Atletico-PR youth system, and experiencing the pre-match anthems.
“Obviously when all the fans sing like that it’s a very emotional moment. I was born here in Brazil, so it was an unusual situation,” he explained. “But when the game started I soon forgot about it. Unfortunately I didn’t come on, but I think we played well, and deserved at least a draw.”
Sammir had hoped for a better result for his adopted country. But that does not mean he will not be supporting Brazil in other games at this World Cup. A few days later, for example, when the hosts took on Mexico in their second match, he felt no qualms about wearing his yellow and green Brazil shirt. Nor did he feel the need to explain himself. “I had plenty of reasons for cheering on Brazil. Firstly, because I’m Brazilian, and secondly because a Brazil win would have been better for Croatia. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
The draw left Croatia a point behind the joint Group A leaders, and now they must beat Mexico on Monday to avoid elimination. Faced with another crunch match, Sammir appears calm, and ready to help the stars on his team where he can. “Mexico will be trying to avoid defeat, so it’s down to us to attack, and win the game. We’re too good to go home so early.”