Ivica Olic was still a relative newcomer to international football when he was called up to the Croatian national team squad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. The goal that he would subsequently score against Italy on that occasion would not only draw the attention of big European clubs, but it would also prove to be the first chapter of a story that is still being written twelve years down the line.
By Brazil 2014 much had changed for that young prospect who had just become a father for the first time in 2002. In his place now stands an experienced 34-year-old footballer, a father of three with a long, successful career behind him at clubs like Hamburg, Bayern Munich and, currently, Wolfsburg. And considering all that he has been through, the goal that he would score in Croatia’s 4-0 win over Cameroon in Manaus would not just represent his second strike at a FIFA World Cup. The feat would etch Olic’s name into the record books, as only the second player to have taken 12 years to double his FIFA World Cup account.
Alongside him is none other than Michael Laudrup, the Danish idol who scored goals at both the 1986 and 1998 World Cups. “It’s a fantastic story. To find myself in the company of a player like Laudrup means a lot to me, and it’s an enormous reward for the years of hard work that I have put in,” Olic told FIFA.com. That hard work is demonstrated by a player who is willing to sacrifice himself in all areas of the pitch and give his all to keep up with the younger players. But after his performance against Cameroon on Wednesday – when he launched counter-attacks from the wings as well as helping out at the back with marking duties –, the Olic who is now breaking longevity records was reminded of that 22-year-old attacker who shone for the first time in 2002.
“When I was 25 years old, I realised that I would have to entirely dedicate myself to my career, and look after my health every day. The lifespan of a professional footballer is short, and I knew that I needed to keep on playing. For this reason, I never joined a club for money. And in Germany, they appreciate this,” stated Olic, who has just extended his contract with Wolfsburg, who he will represent in the Bundesliga until at least 36 years of age.
Remaining in such good form also forced Olic into a rethink over his retirement from the Croatian national team, something that he considered in 2012 when he missed the European Championships through injury. By returning to international duty, he gave himself the opportunity to add more FIFA World Cup appearances to his CV, one that he took full advantage of to pass another milestone that had been set by the former teammate who is currently in charge of the eastern Europeans.
To find myself in the company of a player like Laudrup means a lot to me, and it’s an enormous reward for the years of hard work that I have put in.
For it just so happens that, by scoring against Cameroon, Olic also took the record of being the oldest player to score for Croatia in a FIFA World Cup by 27 days, from previous holder Niko Kovac, the national team’s coach. “Well, I didn’t enjoy finding out that he’d overtaken me,” said a laughing Kovac to FIFA.com. “I’m joking, of course. Maybe he deserves it even more than the other players, for his commitment and the way that he sacrifices himself for his team out on the pitch. I’m really happy that he didn’t retire and that we can still count in him.”
The happiness with which Kovac refers to his forward was also in evidence at the moment that Olic scored the first goal of the game. As he ran to the bench to celebrate, he tried to pass on a message to his coach and friend, although in the midst of his team-mates’ embraces and congratulations, he was unable to make himself heard. “He was ecstatic, he was shouting and then mentioned something about numbers, but I didn’t hear what he said at the time,” admitted Kovac.
Over to Olic, then, to clear up what it all meant. “I had joked with him that the game would be on the 18th day (of June), at 18:00 (in Manaus), and so the player wearing the number 18 shirt would be the one to score,” one of the heroes of the 18th match of this FIFA World Cup explained, while laughing. “So I went over there to tell him that I had been right.”
Superstitions aside, Olic knows better than most that the success over his career has only been possible due to hard work and dedication, which is exactly what the Croats now need to keep their World Cup dreams alive. After losing to Brazil and bouncing back against Cameroon, the last chapter of the group phase pits them against Mexico, a match in which only one result suits them: the win.
“We had already played a good match against Brazil, but now we’ve shown how strong we are. We need to win again, and I believe that we can. We watched the Mexico game yesterday and we know that we are good enough to beat them and to qualify for the next round.” And in Olic’s case, to carry on rewriting his own personal World Cup story.