Kovac calls up uncapped Males for Iceland playoff

Fri Nov 1, 2013 2:39pm EDT
 
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(Reuters) - Croatia coach Niko Kovac has recalled striker Leon Benko and included uncapped midfielder Mate Males in his 25-man squad for the Balkan country's two-legged World Cup playoff against Iceland later this month.

Kovac, who took over from Igor Stimac in October after Croatia took one point from their last four qualifying games, said the atmosphere in the squad had improved and was confident they would qualify for the 32-nation tournament in Brazil next year.

"The players looked like a disjointed group of individuals and not much of a team when I took over, but the lads are now very positive about our chances and we are convinced we will do what it takes to get the job done," the former international midfielder told Croatian media on Friday.

"As far as the new arrivals are concerned, Males earned his call-up with impressive form for his club and so did his Rijeka team mate Benko.

"I was a defensive midfielder like Males and I know very well what traits are needed to perform well in that position."

Croatia visit Iceland on November 15 and play them at home in Zagreb's Maksimir stadium four days later in one of Europe's four playoffs for the continent's last remaining berths.

Although Croatia were delighted to be pitted against Iceland in the playoffs, Kovac struck a note of caution and warned that his counterpart Lars Lagerback had a wealth of experience in big events.

"In Lagerback, Iceland have a fantastic coach who's been to five major tournaments," said the 42-year-old Kovac.

"They have a typical northern style, they are disciplined and very direct. Their football is simple and although Iceland often resort to the long-ball strategy, they have some skilled players who can keep it on the ground.   Continued...

 
Croatia's captain Niko Kovac and teammates protest against referee Lubos Michel's decision to send Robert Kovac off during their World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer match at Maksimir stadium in Zagreb September 10, 2008. REUTERS/Nikola Solic