Suker proud of Hammers links

Croatia legend Davor Suker was back on familiar territory this week as his national team took on Argentina at the Boleyn Ground.

Suker, who is Croatia's all-time record goalscorer and is now President of the country's Football Federation, spent a season as a West Ham United player in 2000/01.

Now 46, the former Sevilla and Real Madrid striker saw a young Croatia side push a star-studded Argentina line-up all the way before losing out 2-1 to Lionel Messi's second-half penalty.

"I remember when I came here and, in my time, I remember West Ham and the great history of the club," said Suker, who scored three goals in 13 Hammers appearances during an injury-affected campaign.

"I remember big players and the gaffer, Harry Redknapp, a nice club, a family club and only bad luck for me in that year. I had a little bit of a groin injury, when I had never been injured and it was the first time.

"When I saw the stadium and saw a lot of West Ham supporters again, I am so proud to be one part of the history of West Ham United."

Suker scores against Manchester United on Boxing Day 2000

Suker also felt huge pride in seeing his fellow countrymen pull on their famous red and white checked shirts at the Academy of Football.

With the likes of Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic being saved for a Euro 2016 qualifier in Italy on Sunday, Croatia's young stars took centre-stage.

HNK Rijeka's Anas Sharbini fired the Blazers into an early lead, while Internazionale's Mateo Kovacic, 20, and 18-year-old Barcelona playmaker Alen Halilovic gave a glimpse of what promises to be a bright future.

"It's a historic game and of course playing against Argentina and Messi was a success for us. Maybe the media in Croatia thought we would concede three, four or five goals but this was not true.

"Football is today for real men and real fighters and I'm so proud of the young players aged 17 to 22-years-old, playing against one of the best national teams in the world.

"We lost the game, but we are so proud."

The trio could all feature in Milan on Sunday, when Croatia will seek to make it four wins out of four in qualification.

Suker's modern-day compatriots are seeking to emulate the achievements of he and fellow ex-Hammers Slaven Bilic and Igor Stimac, who reached the Euro 96 quarter-finals and finished third at the 1998 FIFA World Cup - just a few years after the country had declared independence and reformed its national team.

Perhaps the poster moment of Croatia's emergence was Suker's marvellous chip over Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel at Hillsborough during the Euro 96 group stages.

"Ah yes, the goal against friend Schmeichel! Of course it was a nice part of the progress of Croatian history and this Euro 96 and the World Cup in '98 were historic and have become legends.

"Both 1996 and 1998 were great years in Croatian football."

Suker is hoping Croatia's current side can emulate another one of their achievements by winning a qualifier in Italy this weekend.

Back in November 1994, the striker scored twice as Croatia won 2-1 in Palermo on their way to qualifying for the 1996 UEFA European Championship finals - their first major tournament.

"I hope we can surprise Italy. Of course Italy are favourites at home but we might surprise them. We will proud in the stadium and the San Siro will be full, so I hope we can repeat something.

"Maybe one point is OK, but it would be great to do the same as we did in Palermo in 1994 when we beat Italy 2-1."