While many of his team-mates will use the latest international break to recharge their batteries and prepare for the return to Bundesliga action, Hoffenheim forward Andrej Kramaric has the small matter of a 2018 FIFA World Cup play-off to look forward to.
Kramaric and Croatia will have to get the better of Greece over two legs to secure their place at next summer’s finals in Russia, having been pipped to first place in European qualifying Group I by Iceland. After helping Hoffenheim return to winning ways against Cologne on Matchday 11, the 26-year-old is looking to play a key role in the Vatreni’s upcoming encounters with the UEFA EURO 2004 winners.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Kramaric shares his thoughts on Croatia's World Cup qualifying campaign, Hoffenheim’s start to the season and the disappointment of missing out on a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
bundesliga.com: Andrej Kramaric, you told us in one of our more recent chats that “the bigger the game, the better I play”. It doesn’t get much bigger than a 2018 FIFA World Cup play-off between Croatia and Greece, does it?
Andrej Kramaric: When we last spoke, [Croatia] were in a comfortable position [in qualifying Group I] and were on the brink of a place at the World Cup, but now the situation’s changed. We didn’t perform as well as we can in our last four games.
bundesliga.com: You scored both goals in Croatia’s 2-0 victory over Ukraine - that was certainly a big game! What did your coach say to you beforehand?
Kramaric: I hadn’t started many games before our win against Ukraine, but he didn’t say anything in particular - just the usual instructions. I played on the right wing and it was my job to keep Ukraine’s attacking full-back quiet and swap positions with striker Mario Mandzukic from time to time.
Watch: Andrej Kramaric's top five goals for Hoffenheim
bundesliga.com: Was that the most important game of your career?
Kramaric: I was unaware at the time, but my friends and family soon told me all about the reaction at home in Croatia. That was brilliant. Many of my friends and several journalists told me it was one of my best ever games.
bundesliga.com: You know Greek defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kyriakos Papadopoulos from the Bundesliga…
Kramaric: Yes, I’ve been following their progress this season. They epitomise all the qualities of the Greek national team. They’re both fighters. I hope we score as early as possible in the first leg in Croatia - that would make things a lot easier for us.