Newcastle Jets players Steven Ugarkovic and Ivan Vujica both passionately declare they are Australian fans first and foremost, but their love for their country of heritage – Croatia – runs deep.
The duo donned Croatia shirts after Jets training on Friday and said Croatia “simply have to” avenge 1998 semi-final heartbreak and defeat France in the FIFA World Cup final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia.
Both players were born in Australia after their parents migrated here many decades ago.
Family links led to both men playing club football in Croatia and both played for the under-19 Croatian side.
“My father moved over here probably 50 years ago,” Ugarkovic said.
“Mum was born here, but dad and my grandparents are of Croatian heritage. Croatia gave me my first opportunity in football – with youth football and then professional. That’s why they’re important to me.”
Vujica added: “Definitely Australia’s first, we were born here – that’s it. But a lot of respect for Croatia considering we played there, we grew up there, family is from there.”
The two players made a bet with English teammate Wayne Brown for the England and Croatia semi-final.
Brown was forced to wear a Croatian jersey into training earlier this week after Croatia came away with a 2-1 win.
Ugarkovic said he was holidaying in Croatia for the side’s first two games against Nigeria and Argentina.
“Watching over there was a good experience to see the whole country stop and watch it,” he said.
“Against Argentina, that was a big game. I can’t imagine it now.”
Vujica said from the first match Croatia looked ripe.
“I felt they were playing well and gelling together,” he said.
“The problem with them a lot of the time was they always had good individual players but sometimes they didn’t necessarily connect.
“Everyone has been talking since the Argentina game that ‘we’re on here’ … they can do it.”
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