The golden generation of the late nineties, which included Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Slaven Bilic, may have faded away but Bilic’s reincarnation as a tactically astute manager – known for his controversial break from the traditional Croatian 3-5-2 – has paved the way for another successful generation of Croat footballers.
Bilic has particularly high praise reserved for Liverpool and Tottenham target Marijan Antolovic who, he claims, is destined to become Croatia’s number one in the near future.
The stats appear to back his bold claim too. Antolovic, now only 21, is already Croatian premier league club HNK Cibalia’s first-choice goalkeeper and has been recently named in the top Croatian league’s team of the year.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the 6ft 5in shot-stopper also set an outstanding national record for the most number of minutes without conceding a goal: his net wasn’t breached once in an incredible 551 minutes of football. This superlative feat enabled him to collect 9 man-of-the-match performances along the way and provided such a boost to HNK Cibalia that the team reach their highest ever place in the Croatian top division.
So far Antolovic has made only 35 appearances for his club and only 3 at under-21 level for his country but the young goalkeeper already looks set on a bright future and could well be playing deputy to Heurelho Gomes or Pepe Reina next season according to his clubs sporting director Drazen Pernar.
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