Davor Suker knows all too well what it takes to leave a mark at the FIFA World Cup™. At France 1998, he fired unfancied Croatia to third place and pocketed the adidas Golden Boot in the process. The former Sevilla, Real Madrid and Arsenal striker hung up his boots in 2003, but he will be involved in his country’s quest for success in Brazil as president of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS). FIFA.com caught up with the 46-year-old to hear about his admiration for the host nation, what Brazilians and Croatians have in common, the Opening Match in Sao Paulo and the formula required to spring a surprise at the World Cup.
FIFA.com: Davor, you were known as a very skillful and very technical striker who loved the beautiful game. What are your emotions when you think of Brazilian football?
Suker: The world's best footballers have always come from Brazil. When you walk on the beach, you can see people playing football. Sao Paulo, Salvador, it's everywhere. And that's nice! I have always admired them for going out to play beautiful football with all their quality, to entertain the fans and to score as many goals as possible. It's very special for me to experience this World Cup here in this country.
What will make this World Cup special?
It's always the question of how much you invest in your talent during your childhood and as a teenager, when you play in school and in the streets and work on your skills and tricks. I personally like players who work as hard on the training pitch as in the stadium, even when dealing with high expectations. This is what quality is about. Especially at this World Cup, each team has got so much quality in the midfield and the attack. I am sure we will enjoy it.
I have always admired them for going out to play beautiful football.
Do you see similarities between Brazilians and Croatians?
My country has around four to five million people. We respect all sports. We do it in handball, basketball, water polo, tennis and many more. In school, we had a joke: just give us one single ball and we can play all sports. I think that this extreme passion for the ball is something we definitely share with the Brazilians.
Croatia will face hosts Brazil in the Opening Match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup...
This is a dream come true! You have to imagine: World Cup... in Brazil... there will not only be a full stadium in Sao Paulo, but also TV and radio from everywhere. The entire world will watch this match. We are a small part of the game. We are a small but very proud country. Everyone will give us respect and we will give all we have. Whichever side is better will be the one that takes these three points.
The Brazilians are under pressure as they are faced with high expectations. Is that an advantage for Croatia?
No! It's not important what they write in the newspapers. The important thing is what happens when 11 play against 11 on the pitch. When the referee blows his whistle, that's when it starts to count.
We are a small but very proud country.
You used to be one of the world's finest strikers. Who is your favourite to win the adidas Golden Boot at this World Cup?
Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Mario Mandzukic, Neymar, Fred... there are currently so many good players in each team. It's very difficult to say. But there is always one surprise player that can score many goals. I hope that we will score more goals than we concede. I am sure we will have a great World Cup and see good strikers and I would like to see some Croatian strikers top the goal-scorers' ranking.
Thinking of Bulgaria, Korea Republic, Turkey, Portugal or Uruguay, since the 1994 World Cup there has always been one surprise team in the semi-finals. In 1998, it was Croatia's golden generation including yourself. Who can surprise this time?
We dream about that. If I could change anything, I would start with the many injuries we have but that's part of the game, too. Just play and enjoy football, that's our device. I hope that Croatia can surprise the same way we surprised in 1998. We will need to be quiet and prepare slowly. What we will do is what we know: play football. The surprise team can also be, for example, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium or Chile.
What is the perfect mix that an underdog needs to cause a surprise at a World Cup?
You need to play well, have good midfielders, have a strong collective and a good forward that scores many goals. This is the formula. And of course, you need to begin with no expectations. Who can expect a surprise?
Are you proud about the fact that players from the golden generation of 1998 are the idols of today's Croatia team?
Yes! All these young players watched us at the World Cup 1998. I am very proud that I was able to be on the pitch to decide games. Later, I was a fan and now, I am the President helping the national team.
Is there also something that you would have liked to have in 1998 from today's Croatian team?
(laughs) It's not easy to answer this question! I wish Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic can be able to play like Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Aljosa Asanovic. I wish Mario Mandzukic, Nikica Jelavic and Eduardo can score goals like I did back then. But first we need to play well as a team, that's the first point. I don't like comparisons. It's a completely different team with a new style of modern football. As we know, football changes every ten years. I wish them all the best and hope they do even better than us in 1998.