Croatia manager Ante Cacic insists he has buried the hatchet with Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren and fully expects him to be involved in future World Cup qualifiers.
The Croats arrived in Belfast over the weekend without a raft of senior players, including Lovren, who asked not to be called up for either Tuesday’s friendly with Northern Ireland or last Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Iceland for personal reasons.
Lovren has endured a rocky relationship with Cacic, his former boss at Inter Zapresic, having been left out of the Euro 2016 squad – a decision that saw both sides trade barbs in public – but he was back in the fold for the September match with Turkey when he was an unused substitute.
And though Lovren has not played a game for his country since before the summer, Cacic insists the door remains open for a player who has impressed since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside.
“I think we’ve said enough about that this year – for me, there is no case with Lovren,” Cacic said.
“I know that when I feel he is needed for the team he will be called up and of course he will come to play for the national team.
“I was his first senior coach, all the way back in 2006 at Inter Zapresic, I know him very well. He was a young player then and he’s shown that he has the capacity to have a respectable career.
“We are all proud of him because he’s playing for a big club in England, one of the two best leagues in the world, along with Spain, which is a great satisfaction for everyone who’s worked with him and especially for him personally.
“To any national team, including Croatia, he’s a needed player, somebody that we don’t want to not use in the future.”
Lovren’s Klopp gratitude
Lovren recently thanked Jurgen Klopp for the faith the Reds boss has put in him since the German’s arrival at Anfield over a year ago and thinks things could have worked out differently for him at Anfield had he not taken charge.
Lovren said: “When I started to play with Jurgen Klopp I think people were then able to see the difference between the first and the second season here for me.
“He just believes in us and I think that has helped me to get back to the form I showed at Southampton or during the couple of years before that in France.”
Lovren has hailed Klopp’s work ethic at the club and reckons his infectious enthusiasm is spreading to the playing staff.
“I would say he works 24 hours a day on everything at the club,” he added.
“He knows everything that is happening, and he wants us to give that same 100 per cent on the pitch.”
Several stars absent
Lovren will not be the only high-profile Croatian player missing at Windsor Park against the Northern Irish, with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic, Vedran Corluka, Danijel Subasic and Nikola Kalinic all left behind from the original squad announcement.
It will give Cacic an opportunity to look at others, including teenage midfielder Ante Coric, linked in the past with Liverpool and Tottenham, and former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric.
The latter was a record buy for the Foxes in January 2015 but departed for Hoffenheim recently having scored just four times for the Midlands club.
Though he may have a point to prove in this part of the world, team-mate Mario Mandzukic is adamant Kramaric can recover from his ill-fated spell with the Foxes.
“I know him very well from his playing days in Croatia and he’s obviously a quality player,” said Juventus’ Mandzukic, who refused to discuss the possibility of moving to England himself in the near future.
“I know what he can do during the match and during the training sessions and I believe there are a lot of good things waiting for him in his career. He is a hard worker and I think he made a good move by moving to the Bundesliga because he has shown he can play at the highest level.”