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Niko Kovač ( ) (born 15 October 1971 in West Berlin) is a former Croatianmarker footballer who last played as a midfielder for Red Bull Salzburg. He was the long-standing captain of Croatia before retiring from international football in January 2009. A defensive midfielder who is known for his excellent passing and tackling skills, Niko was, at the time of his retirement, the oldest player in the Croatian squad and had been an important motivation raiser for them, having captained them at UEFA Euro 2004, the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Euro 2008. He has also enjoyed a high level of top club action, having spent most of his career in the German Bundesliga. He is the older brother of Robert Kovač.

Club career

Early career

Born in West Berlin to a family of Croatian gastarbeiters hailing from the Livnomarker area in Herzegovina, Kovač started to play football at local club Hertha Zehlendorf and became a member of their first team in the summer of 1989 at the age of 17. He moved to Hertha BSC in the summer of 1991 and started his professional career with the club that competed in the Second Bundesliga at the time.

Bayer Leverkusen

In the summer of 1996, Kovač left Hertha, still a Second Bundesliga side at the time, for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. He made his Bundesliga debut on 17 August 1996, appearing as a halftime substitute in the club's opening match of the 1996-97 season, a 4-2 home victory over Borussia Dortmund. He appeared in 32 Bundesliga matches in his first season with Bayer Leverkusen, also scoring three goals. However, he mostly played as a substitute in the following two seasons and missed several matches in the 1997-98 season after sustaining an injury in the club's home match against VfB Stuttgart in December 1997. In three seasons with Bayer Leverkusen, Kovač made 77 Bundesliga appearances and scored eight goals in the league competition. At the club, he was teammates with his younger brother Robert for the first time in his professional career.

Hamburg

Kovač joined Hamburger SV in the summer of 1999 and spent two seasons with the club, making 55 Bundesliga appearances and scoring 12 goals for Hamburg in the Bundesliga. In the summer of 2001, he left Hamburg for Bayern Munich where he was once again teammates with his younger brother Robert.

Bayern Munich

However, Kovač did not manage to establish himself as a regular at the club and left Bayern Munich for Hertha BSC after two seasons in the summer of 2003. He appeared in 34 Bundesliga matches and scored three goals for Bayern in the league.

Hertha BSC

Kovač then signed for Hertha BSC again. He made 75 Bundesliga appearances for Hertha BSC and scored eight goals for the club in the league.

Red Bull Salzburg

After the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Kovač left Hertha BSC after three seasons for Austrianmarker Bundesliga side Red Bull Salzburg. He is now a regular in the Salzburg team and also appeared in all of their four UEFA Champions League qualifiers in the summer of 2006. On 26 August 2006, he scored his first goal for Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga, netting the second goal in their 4-0 home victory over Wacker Tirol. He signed one more year until summer 2009 in May 2008. On 29 May 2009 left after three years FC Red Bull Salzburg and retired from professional football. He played his last game for Red Bull Salzburg in a friendly match against FC Bayern Munich, where he was substituted after the first 15 minutes.

International career

Kovač made his international debut in Croatia's friendly match against Morocco on 11 December 1996 in Casablancamarker. He subsequently also appeared in three qualifying matches for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, but missed the finals in Francemarker because he did not fully recover from injury until the beginning of the preparations for the tournament. He was subsequently not part of the national team for two years before making his comeback in a friendly match against France in November 1999.

At international level, Kovač played for Croatia in five qualifying matches for the 2002 FIFA World Cup and scored one goal in their 4-0 victory away against San Marino. At the final tournament, he appeared as a starting player in all three group matches before Croatia was eliminated from the tournament with a third-place finish in their group. He was also a regular in the UEFA Euro 2004 qualifying, making seven appearances and scoring two goals in away matches, the 1-0 winner against Estonia and the opening goal in the team's 3-0 victory over Andorra. He also played the entire three group matches played by the Croatian team at the final Euro 2004 tournament in Portugalmarker and scored the opening goal in the final group match against England, but Croatia ended up losing the match 4-2 and was once again eliminated from the tournament as the group third-placed.

After the Euro 2004 finals, Kovač became the Croatian national team's captain and led the team through the qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. He appeared in nine out of the ten qualifying matches and scored two goals, both in Croatia's 4-0 victory over Iceland at home in Zagrebmarker. At the final tournament, he appeared in all three of Croatia's group matches, despite sustaining an injury which forced him to leave the pitch after 40 minutes of the team's opening match against Brazil. Kovač scored the goal that put Croatia 2-1 up in the final group match against Australia. However, the match ended in a 2-2 draw and Croatia was eliminated by virtue of finishing third in the group. This was the third consecutive time this had happened in a major tournament.

UEFA Euro 2008 was a bittersweet campaign for captain Kovač. His sterling performances against Germany and Turkey ultimately unrewarded in what could prove to be his last major tournament. Against Germany, he was peerless, producing a man of the match display alongside Luka Modrić whilst against Turkey, he reduced his opponents to pot shots from distance as they rarely broke through his screening protection of the back four. Before and after that game, Kovač reiterated his intention to retire from international football at the end of Euro 2008, however, after conversation with Slaven Bilić, it would seem he feels there is 'unfinished business' to take care of.

Kovač finally announced his international retirement on 7 January 2009, stating a desire that younger players should be given experience in the Croatia side.

Career statistics



Honours



References

External links



1991–92 Hertha BSC 2. Bundesliga 12 1
1992–93 42 1
1993–94 32 1
1994–95 31 2
1995–96 31 11
1996–97 Bayer Leverkusen Bundesliga 32 3
1997–98 18 1
1998–99 27 4
1999–00 Hamburg Bundesliga 30 8
2000–01 25 4
2001–02 Bayern Munich Bundesliga 16 2
2002–03 18 1
2003–04 Hertha BSC Bundesliga 17 1
2004–05 30 4
2005-06 28 3

2006–07 Red Bull Salzburg Bundesliga 28 6
2007–08 25 3
2008–09 12 0
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