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Play-off strike the perfect panacea for Olić

"You have no idea how much that meant to me," Ivica Olić told UEFA.com after returning from his 13-month injury nightmare with a goal in Croatia's 3-0 play-off defeat of Turkey.

Ivica Olić talks to UEFA.com after his goalscoring return for Croatia in Istanbul
Ivica Olić talks to UEFA.com after his goalscoring return for Croatia in Istanbul ©UEFA.com

For Croatia's Ivica Olić success has not come easily. A bustling forward who has had to work harder than most to reach the top, the 32-year-old has survived myriad injury setbacks during his career.

Minor knocks aside, the FC Bayern München striker has broken his nose three times, undergone two knee ligament operations and, most recently, suffered a hip problem. His UEFA EURO 2012 play-off goal against Turkey, however, was the perfect panacea.

"I was thinking about retiring," admitted the 32-year-old, who last season had to endure a nine-month rehabilitation programme that tested his physical and psychological limits to the full. The former PFC CSKA Moskva and Hamburger SV player refused to give up, promising himself that he would battle back to match fitness.

However, no sooner had he returned for the start of the current campaign than he suffered yet another injury, this time to his hip, which sidelined him for a further two months. For many, this latest blow might have been the final straw but Olić, who finished joint second in the UEFA Champions League scorers' charts alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and behind Lionel Messi in 2009/10, again persevered.

He also took courage from the fact that every time he has recovered from adversity he has come back stronger than before. On Friday, 13 months after his last competitive international for Croatia, it took him just two minutes to score against Turkey in Istanbul. That opener helped his side establish a 3-0 play-off first-leg lead which Slaven Bilić's charges defend on Tuesday night.

"You have no idea how much that meant to me," said Olić, now capped 75 times by Croatia. "I am out for a whole year and then I come back and score in the second minute of the match. I am so happy. And we were real fighters in Istanbul, we didn't give them a single shot on our goal. That's how Croatia are playing. But it's not over yet, we still have another match to go. We will be cautious and ready."

With the national newspapers running with headlines such as "Olić airlines" and "Last call for Warsaw and Kyiv", Olić has once more fought back from hard times to regain hero status in his homeland. "My wife and kids stayed in Munich and watched the match on the television," he explained. "I called them beforehand and my younger son, my seven-year-old Luka, was yelling down the phone: 'Don't worry dad. You will score and we will win'.

"I called my wife immediately after the match and she told me that the kids were going head-over-heels celebrating my goal. She had trouble calming them down. Luka has been playing against Turkey on the PlayStation for the last three years, ever since the shock defeat in Vienna at UEFA EURO 2008. Now he can calm down. Daddy has put them behind."

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