Jelavic is aiming to be centre of world attention

Nikica Jelavic playing for Croatia at Euro 2012. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Nikica Jelavic playing for Croatia at Euro 2012. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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“IT is the dream opening game,” says Nikica Jelavic. “The whole world will be watching.”

Not for the first time since the draw for next summer’s World Cup was made late last year, talk for the 28-year-old has turned to how Croatia will kick off the 
finals against Brazil in Sao Paulo on June 12.

It is understandable, with Hull City’s new signing having a great chance of being involved in a fixture that will be watched by billions around the globe.

Jelavic, with 31 caps to his name after making his senior debut for Croatia in 2009, has a great chance of starting against Brazil. The red card – and one-game suspension – picked up by Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic in November’s play-off victory over Iceland has seen to that.

The prospect is an exciting one and, as the Hull newcomer readily admits, a major motive behind this week’s record-breaking transfer from Everton, where he was well down the pecking order.

“Playing for your country is the biggest thing,” said the striker who played in his native Croatia, Belgium, Austria and Scotland before moving to Goodison Park.

“It is a privilege, especially at the highest level of football like a World Cup. And for that to be against Brazil, well that is a dream.

“The whole world will be watching and that means you can show what you can do.”

Croatia, perhaps understandably considering the depth of talent in Belgium right now, finished a distant second to Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard and company in their qualifying group.

But, after a goalless draw in Reykjavik, the Balkan nation triumphed 2-0 in the return play-off leg despite Mandzukic seeing red in the first half.

Jelavic came on for the final 10 minutes in Zagreb and admits the celebrations that followed released a lot of pent-up tension, much of it caused by Croatia missing out on a place at the 2010 World Cup after finishing third behind England and Ukraine in qualifying.

“After missing out on the last World Cup, this was a big chance after a long time to go again,” said the striker.

“With the World Cup being in Brazil, that just made something bigger for everyone of us.

“There were huge celebrations, of course. It was emotional. In the end, we deserved it. We finished second in a tough group and then beat Iceland in the play-off. Now, we are looking forward to Brazil.”

Before Croatia can tackle a group containing Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon, there is, though, the less than trifling matter of making sure he goes into the tournament in fine form.

Which is where Hull come in, after the Yorkshire club splashed out a record £6.5m fee with the promise of another £1m should relegation to the Football League be avoided come May.

Jelavic’s debut should come this afternoon at Norwich City, when he will be hoping to avoid a similar fate to some of his immediate predecessors as the Tigers’ record buy.

Jimmy Bullard, for instance, suffered a serious injury on his Hull bow in 2009 that kept him out for months.

Caleb Folan, the club’s first £1m capture, had been stretchered off on his own debut at Blackpool a couple of years earlier.

“I am ready to start,” said Jelavic when asked about possibly taking on the Canaries. “I am not sure that I am ready for 90 minutes, I haven’t played for a long time. But I am ready to help.

“I want to do well for Hull. I spoke to the manager (Steve Bruce) and he convinced me to move here.

“He was straight and honest, and when you have a manager who believes in you from the first day, you are going to give him your best.”

Asked if he knew much about the Tigers before signing this week, Jelavic replied: “No, but I have signed for three and a half years so there is time to learn about the club.

“I have watched a few Hull games. It is a really decent team and we have some good players. I heard we are going to sign another few players as well, so we can only get better and better. This is an ambitious club.”

Even allowing for the Tigers sitting 10th in the Premier League ahead of this afternoon’s trip to Norwich, the “ambitions” Jelavic speaks of for this season basically equate to staying in the top flight.

After that, though, the club’s new record buy sees no reason why Hull cannot push on in the years to come.

He said: “If it is a target only to stay in Premier League, that is okay for the first season.

“But, if you want to be something and achieve something... well, I can’t say we have to fight for Europe because we would need more players and a bigger squad.

“But, in the coming years, I think we can do something. Europe may not be realistic right now but maybe in the next few years.”

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk

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