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Clinical Graf in search of more doubles

He shares a surname with a tennis great and Ivan Graf is eyeing both the top scorers' prize and final success with Centre Zagreb AMA as the young striker looks to make a name for himself at the 6th UEFA Regions' Cup.

Serve and volley: Ivan Graf delivered two goals for Centre Zagreb in their first game
Serve and volley: Ivan Graf delivered two goals for Centre Zagreb in their first game ©Sportsfile

Ivan Graf shares a name with a great from the world of tennis, but the Centre Zagreb AMA striker is hoping his performances at the UEFA Regions' Cup will thrust him into a successful football career.

Despite dominating their opening Group A match against Bratislava AMA on Monday, Centre Zagreb could not make the breakthrough as the game drifted towards a goalless draw. However, with 17 minutes remaining, Graf won a penalty which he converted and followed it up with a second successful spot-kick after Marko Puškarić was brought down. "We played very well and it looked like we were going to be unlucky," said Graf, "but fortunately we got the goal."

Waiting game
Although he sent Bratislava No1 Andrej Mundi the wrong way with his first penalty, he went for the opposite corner with his second. The goalkeeper guessed correctly, but still could not keep it out. "Every time I take a penalty, I wait until the last moment for the goalkeeper to make his move," Graf explained. "For the second one, I had an impulse he would dive the opposite way but fortunately it was a very precise shot near the post."
Top of rankings
The double strike has given Graf a fledgling lead as the final tournament's top goalscorer and the forward, who turns 22 on Wednesday when hosts Centre Zagreb meet Privolzhie AMA, would regard finishing first as the perfect birthday present. "I am optimistic – that's why I'm here. My job is to score goals and it would be nice to be top goalscorer in the competition." A player with third division amateur side NK Vrapče, he also hopes his feats this week will alert bigger clubs to his ability. "I think the tournament is good because many clubs from higher divisions can follow my development," he added.

Tournament play
However, Graf is also focused on delivering a first ever UEFA Regions' Cup success to Croatia, although he is wary of the teams he has not yet had a chance to watch. "There are eight teams and I haven't seen them so it's hard to say whether we can win it or not," he added, "but we will try and win every single game – you never know how far you can go in a tournament." A sentiment Steffi, his more famous namesake, would no doubt agree with.