26.09.2016 10.00 - in: Serie A S

    Juventus and Croatia: a brief history

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    Mandzukic and Pjaca to Tudor and Boksic, Juventus.com looks at the contributions of the eight Croatians to have represented the Old Lady

    Juventus will be heading east to Croatia to face Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday evening for just the third time in the club’s history, the first since a meeting in the now defunct Coppa delle Fiere in April 1967.

    Among the Juve ranks however, there are two players with a particularly extensive knowledge of our next Champions League opponents, having both represented the Croatian club for a combined total of five years before carving out their respective paths to Turin.

    After all, were it not for Marko Pjaca, Dinamo may not have made it through to the competition’s group stages, the youngster scoring twice from the penalty spot to seal a 3-2 victory over Vardar in the second qualifying round.

    Pjaca’s brace at the Maksimir Stadion on 20 July was a fitting end to a richly successful two-year spell in the capital for the Zagreb-born forward, who departed for Italy with two domestic doubles and 100 top-flight appearances to his name, not to mention a place in the national squad for Euro 2016.

    Pjaca signs on the dotted line to become the eighth Croatian to play for Juventus

    Mario Mandzukic meanwhile, the other half of the Bianconeri’s current Dinamo connections, would take a decidedly longer route to Juventus Stadium.

    Like his compatriot, Mandzukic rose to European prominence at the Maksimir, netting on his debut as a 19-year-old on 21 July 2007 against HNK Sibelik having joined from city rivals NK Zagreb the previous summer.

    Three league titles and 62 goals later, Juve’s number 17 was snapped up by Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg in 2010 before later joining Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid on his way to Turin in July 2015.

    Despite netting 16 times last term, two of which came in the UCL group stages against Manchester City, Mario still sits five goals short of becoming the club’s leading scorer from its Croatian cohort.

    That title is currently held by Igor Tudor, whose contribution of 21 strikes in 178 appearances will be fondly remembered by Juventus fans of the late 1990s onwards.

    Having begun his career with Hajduk Split, “The Prince” joined Juve in August 1998 where he would lift two Scudetto trophies and two Italian Super Cups before returning to his hometown club in 2007 via a loan spell with Siena. 

    Between Tudor and Mandzukic in the appearances table you will find defender and current assistant national team coach Robert Kovac. Like Pjaca and Mandzukic, Kovac represented both Juventus and Dinamo, turning out 43 times for the Bianconeri between 2005 and 2007, completing his decorated playing career in the Croatian capital in 2010.

    For Champions League goals however, Alen Boksic remains the man to beat, the striker saving his best form for Europe’s premier club competition where he scored four of his seven goals for the club in his one-year stay in 1996/97. 

    The likes of Robert Jarni (30 apps, 1994/95), Zoran Ban (6 apps, 1993/94) and Dario Knezevic (3 apps, 2008/09) complete the Juventus-Croatia connection, a story that is set to continue on Tuesday night on the biggest stage of them all. 

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