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  • Wednesday, May 3, 2000

    Canadian midfielder could play for Croatia

    By Neil Davidson -- Canadian Press
      -- Winger Ante Jazic is the latest Canadian player to ponder where his international soccer future lies.
     
     The 24-year-old from Halifax, who plays for Hajduk Split, says he may be on the verge of being called up by Croatia. In an interview Wednesday from Split, Jazic said Croatian soccer officials have asked FIFA to clarify whether he is eligible to play for them.
     
     Canadian World Cup coach Holger Osieck, meanwhile, has invited Jazic to join his squad for friendlies May 27 against Trinidad and Tobago in Toronto and May 30 against Honduras in Winnipeg.
     
     "At this stage I don't know. I'd have to make a decision," Jazic, who was born in Canada but whose parents are Croatian, said of his possible career options.
     
     Jazic, whose first name is pronounced On-tay, has played twice for Canada, against Macedonia in 1998 and Guatemala in 1999. Since both were exhibition games, Jazic is eligible to play for Croatia. FIFA rules only stipulate that you are ineligible to play for another country if you have already represented one at a FIFA-sanctioned competition at any level.
     
     Jazic has not appeared for Canada at such a tournament.
     
     "If this is the case, Jazic is eligible (for Croatia)," FIFA spokesman Marius Schneider said Wednesday from Zurich.
     
     Croatia, which finished third at the 1998 World Cup, is slated to host France in a friendly May 28 in Zagreb.
     
     Said Jazic: "It came out in the papers today that if that's the case, they're going to call me for the game against France."
     
     Other Canadian players have faced similar choices.
     
     Calgary teenager Owen Hargreaves, currently in the Bayern Munich system, is eligible to play for both Canada and Wales. He played for the Welsh youth side in an exhibition event but has since indicated that his future lies with Canada.
     
     Vancouver teen Terry Dunfield, with Manchester City, has been called up by the English youth team and has yet to declare his future. Gordon Chin, a 16-year-old with Portsmouth in England, has opted for Canada despite also being eligible to play for Scotland and China.
     
     Jazic has flourished at Hajduk, one of the biggest clubs in Croatia. The team is currently second in the standings between Dinamo Zagreb.
     
     The Canadian found himself a witness to the darker side of the sport Tuesday night when fans rioted in the first leg of the Croatian Cup final between the two rivals.
     
     The match was suspended in the 86th minute when police used tear gas to disperse about 15,000 home-town Hajduk fans who stormed to the fences separating them from Dinamo fans.
     
     The violence resulted in about 100 injuries and more than 100 arrests.
     
     The tear gas spread toward the field, sending players to locker-rooms and leading the referee to end the game with Hajduk leading 2-0.
     
     "There was fighting going on in the stands the whole game," said Jazic. "It was hard to keep concentrating."
     
     The Croatian federation is to decide later this week whether the match will be replayed.
     
     Hajduk has had other problems this year. The team was penalized four points after using an ineligible player while another three points were deducted after fans invaded the field and hit an opposing player.
     
     But Jazic says the year, his first with Hajduk after three seasons with FC Hrvatski in Zagreb, has been one to remember for other reasons.
     
     "Excellent, never better," he said of his campaign. "Playing well, playing every game."
     
     Jazic, who played one year for Dalhousie back home, caught on in Croatia almost by accident. He visited relatives at the request of his parents, only to find his uncle had arranged a tryout with a Croatian club.
     
     The one-month vacation turned into a career.



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