Thursday 13 February 2020, 06:46

Zigic: I’ve learned something from every country I’ve played in

  • Sandra Zigic one of Croatia's most experienced players

  • Set to compete with her side in Cyprus Cup this March

  • "We can learn a lot from Italy in terms of women's football"

After Croatia's success at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in Russia, the exploits of the national team was on everyone’s lips back home. It came as no surprise when, later that same year, Luka Modric was named The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018 for his achievements. Currently sixth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Croatia are indisputably one of best teams in the world and are enjoying a level of success that their women counterparts can only dream of.

“After the World Cup, there was a lot of talk and a lot of positivity about football in Croatia. The federation have tried to do more positive things for women’s football,” said international defender Sandra Zigic, who has been wearing her country’s colours since 2005. “As far as I know, they started to organise more football camps for the younger generations. They have also tried to make sure we have better conditions for the women’s national team. It’s getting better, but we still have a lot of work to do. But, basically, you can see some improvement – which is good.”

That improvement has also been reflected in the team’s standing in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. From when the ranking was first introduced in July 2003 until August 2005, Croatia occupied 44th place, a target they've been chasing ever since. In the latest release (December 2019), the team ranked 52nd – an improvement of two places on the previous edition and of four places over the course of 2019. It is certainly a small step in the right direction even if there is a long road ahead.

Zigic, who currently plays for AC Milan, knows this better than anyone. "We can definitely learn a lot from what Italy did, and how they approach women’s football, which has really exploded there. All the national team players are treated as such by the public, the press and the media, but especially by the fans. I think it is all about promotion, about putting us out there and getting us seen. That is what’s lacking right now in Croatia for the female national team."

Zigic herself has experience playing in Austria, the USA, Poland, Switzerland and Germany, as well as 89 international caps. This undoubtedly makes her a pillar of the national team, even if she does not quite see it that way. "We’re all equal in the national team. We’re all playing for our country and trying to do our best. We put our heart and soul into it. There's always someone who needs advice and, if they come to me, I will give it," she said.

"Every country [you play in] has something specific that you can take away with you. When you’re willing to learn, you can always pick up something new and make it your own. I took away something from each of the leagues I played in," the 32-year-old added.

She will need to draw on all that experience this March, when Croatia take part in the Cyprus Cup and face three higher ranked sides in Mexico (26th), Czech Republic (28th) and Thailand (38th). "These tournaments, and especially the friendlies and FIFA international dates, are really important for us to spend as much time as possible playing together," Zigic insisted.

"We have a special situation in Croatia in that we don’t always have the same squad. There are around 30 of us, but occasionally some of us can't be there because of injury or even job issues. That's why these dates are so important, because we actually get to play together and learn everything we need for the upcoming [European Championship] qualifiers."

Next up for Zigic and her team-mates are fixtures against Lithuania and Romania on 10 and 14 April. However, with just three points amassed from their first four qualifiers, the chances of a maiden EURO participation and Zigic fulfilling her dream of playing at a major tournament look unlikely to be fulfilled next year.

That said, they can take heart from the trajectory of their male counterparts, who were once as low as 113th in the Ranking. What happened after that is history, now…