Full-back Fran Karacic has no regrets about switching his international allegiance from Croatia to Australia despite missing out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and is hoping to go to a new level this year at Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb.
Despite being born and raised in Croatia, Karacic is eligible to play for the Socceroos because of his Australian-born father.
The defender, who has previously made eight appearances for the Mladi Vatreni Under-21s, was plucked from obscurity two years ago and enticed into the green and gold fold before the World Cup in Russia.
Karacic trained with the Socceroos in Turkey ahead of the 2018 World Cup, but was ultimately cut from the final 23-man squad by Bert van Marwijk, with Josh Risdon preferred on the right side of defence.
Two years on and the 24-year-old has continued to impress in the Prva HNL with NK Lokomotiva, earning a move to Dinamo, and will join the defending champions next season after being loaned out since the winter break.
Karacic admits it was “tough” being overlooked for the World Cup but has since moved on.
“I switched my allegiance to Australia, I came to Antalya on the gathering of the national team for the World Cup in Russia,” Karacic told The World Game.
“It was a difficult decision to make [to change allegiance] but it was my call and I wanted that. It was my first gathering and from that side it was difficult because that was something very new for me.
“Everyone accepted me very well and I soon felt like I was part of the national team for a long time. There were also the coach Ante Milicic and players Tomi Juric and Milos Degenek, they helped me a lot.
“It was tough for me [missing Russia], but I’m professional and I quickly got over it. After that I came back to Zagreb. I got some time off from Lokomotiva.
“Then I decided to play only club competitions until I made the step out of Lokomotiva. This winter I signed for Dinamo and made that step. From now on we will see what the future brings to me but I’m ready for anything.”
Karacic said he has not had any recent contact from current Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, who took over from van Marwijk after the World Cup.
Asked if he hopes to win a spot in the national team in the future, the full-back said: “I will try to be the best on the field, and if that will be enough to get a call then I will think about it.”
The football season in Croatia was shut down because of the coronavirus in March but the Prva HNL restarts this weekend.
“It was heavy because they said to us the day before our game against Nk Osijek that everything stops for the next month,” Karacic said.
“In that period of time I trained at home. It was boring sometimes but I needed to keep my body in training.
“After that month we started to train in the club in groups of five people but, because of the good situation with the coronavirus, we quickly started to train normally as a whole team.
“The football season has just come back. We were playing against Slaven Belupo last Saturday in the semi-final of the Croatian Cup and we won 3-1. With that win we reached the Cup final, which was very important for us.
“The Croatian league starts this Friday.”
Karacic has been a regular at Lokomotiva this season, making 22 appearances and scoring one goal before the break.
The full-back is excited about the opportunity to join Dinamo, Mark Viduka’s former club, for the 2020-21 campaign.
“My time in Lokomotiva was great,” he said.
“I have been there since I was 16 years old. I joined senior football in Lokomotiva and became the captain for two years.
“I grew up there as a player and from here I made my transfer to Dinamo, which was a step that I needed in my career. Joining Dinamo is what makes me happy and shows to me that I’m in the right way.
“It excites me because Dinamo is the largest Croatian club and has a great history. My plan is to train hard and give the best and we will see what happens.”