Mislav Orsic gave Dinamo Zagreb a dream start in the Champions League with a sensational opening round hat-trick against Atalanta, and now the journeyman striker has a shot at downing all-conquering Manchester City.
The 26-year-old is the competition’s leading scorer heading into their daunting clash at the Etihad Stadium alongside RB Salzburg’s teenage sensation Erling Braut Haaland.
However, his sudden rise to prominence for Dinamo comes after a middling career that has seen him traverse the globe in anonymity.
Maintaining a position usually reserved for Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo seems unlikely, but the three goals that put Orsic in top spot and crushed Atalanta 4-0 has suddenly put him in the spotlight.
Front pages in Croatia hailed the “night that will enter into legend” and Orsic as the hero, highlighting his journey “from unknown to a Champions League star”.
The local boy started his senior career with Inter Zapresic, a team based just outside the Croatian capital, in 2009, and before joining Dinamo last year, he had played for a host of clubs in Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, China and South Korea.
“I’m probably a surprise for some who did not know me as I was playing in Asia, but I think there is still room for improvement in my game,” Orsic told AFP.
“There is no other club for which I would feel the emotions I have every time when I enter the stadium.”
Orsic’s good performances since the move home were rewarded this month when he made his debut for Croatia in their 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifier draw with Azerbaijan.
And Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has included Orsic in his group for the forthcoming qualifiers with Hungary and Wales.
“He’s an excellent attacker who looked promising after his First Division debut 10 years ago. But then he went through a period of bad choices and changes that slowed down his development,” prominent sports journalist Robert Matteoni told AFP.
- European presence -
Dinamo go into their trip to City top of Group C thanks in large part to Orsic’s treble over fancied Atalanta, who are taking part in their first-ever Champions league campaign.
That is already a big step up for a club that failed to score a single goal on their way to losing all six matches in their last group stage appearance in 2016-17.
Dinamo already have one goal more than in their previous 12 Champions League matches.
Pundits in Croatia say that Nenad Bjelica’s side are ready to make an important step forward and could even fight for the second place in a group that also includes Shakhtar Donetsk, and Orsic shares that view after seeing the team get to the Europa League last 16 last season.
“We already had a great European result last season and this is only the continuation. We have everything necessary to become a presence in Europe,” he said.
Orsic, who credits for his success a “bit of talent and a lot of work,” is an even an optimist ahead of the encounter with City.
“We all know who we are playing but that shouldn’t demotivate us,” he said.
“We badly wanted the Champions League and to compete with the best clubs and that’s what we have, it’s all up to us.
“If we play to 110 percent of our abilities and catch City by surprise then anything is possible”.