Stimac hails Croatia young guns

Croatia great Igor Stimac has spoken of his pride at his fellow countrymen turning out at West Ham United.

On Wednesday evening, Croatia will take on Argentina in a prestige international friendly at the Boleyn Ground. Tickets are still available for the game here.

The former Hammers centre-back and Croatia centre-back and manager spent two years in east London, scoring once in 52 appearances, and has fond memories of his time in Claret and Blue.


"West Ham have wonderful supporters and we had such a great team while I playing there - Di Canio, Kanoute, Stuart Pearce, Trevor Sinclair, Rio Ferdinand, Lampard, Joe Cole, Carrick, plus you cannot forget Moncur and Lomas. We had such fun playing together, and it was a great dressing room to be in.

"This season, I don't think anyone expected to see Hammers flying after they suffered last year, but it is great to see!"

Prior to joining West Ham, Stimac enjoyed a fantastic spell with Derby County, who he joined following Croatia's impressive run to the quarter-finals at Euro 96. With the likes of future Hammers Slaven Bilic and Davor Suker to the fore, the Croatians came within a whisker of defeating eventual winners Germany in a thrilling quarter-final at Old Trafford.

"We had a great team and could have been in the semi-finals that day at Old Trafford if the ref did not make some strange decisions!" said Stimac. "Anyway, overall it was a great tournament."

Fast forward 18 years and Croatia are seeking to recover from a disappointing 2014 FIFA World Cup, where they were eliminated at the group stage. The Blazers have made a perfect start to qualifying for Euro 2016 and face Italy on Saturday, where they will seek to make it four wins out of four.

"It is always very similar in the qualifiers - if our best players are fit we can do well, and if someone like Luka Modric, Diego Srna or Mario Mandzukic is out we find it difficult to win.

"At the moment [manager] Niko Kovac is introducing some new young kids hoping to lift them up sooner in their careers and get them ready to replace some of the older guys who are playing their last games for the national team."

Modric, Srna and Mandzukic will sit out Wednesday's meeting with Argentina in east London, but Stimac says those young stars will be eager to impress against the World Cup runners-up.

"I am not sure who would be playing on the day, but however young Alen Halilovic, Mateo Kovacic and one of the best in form strikers at the moment Andrej Kramaric are exceptional talents."

The prolific Kramaric is one of seven players called-up from Croatian club FC Rijeka, who finished second in the 1. HNL last season and are now challenging in the UEFA Europa League, for their visit to the Boleyn Ground - a move endorsed by Stimac.

"FC Rijeka is the only club in Croatia having all what takes for success at the moment," he confirmed. "They have a great man as president in Mr Damir Miskovic, talented coaches and players, and a very positive atmosphere around the club."

Now 47, Stimac himself is seeking a new opportunity in management after leaving his post as Croatia manager a year ago.

"I do my football homework every day, keeping an eye on the ways that football evolves from game to game," he confirmed. "I am waiting for an interesting offer to keep managing."

*Tickets for the match are on General Sale now and are available directly from West Ham United.

Standard Ticket prices start from £25 for Adults and £15 for Over-65s and Under-16s. Disabled Ticket prices are the same, including a complimentary carer. Family Tickets priced at £60 for two Adults and two Under-16s are also available in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand Upper.

Demand for tickets for this exciting fixture is expected to be high, so fans are urged to book early to avoid disappointment.

To make sure of your seat now, click here, call 0871 529 1966 (calls cost 10p/min plus network extras) or buy in person at the Alpari Stand Ticket Office.

Corporate hospitality packages are also available, with Executive Boxes available for just £1,250 plus VAT and lounge packages starting from only £60 per person plus VAT. To book a package now, please 0871 091 1911 (calls cost 10p/min plus network extras).

The Stadium Store will also be open late on Wednesday evening, giving Hammers fans the opportunity to complete some early Christmas shopping!

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