Ivan Perisic was at the heart of Croatia’s turnaround against Japan in the World Cup last 16 on Monday afternoon.
The Samurai Blue were deservedly leading at the break thanks to Daizen Maeda’s opening strike, but Perisic clawed his side back into the game shortly after the restart with a bullet header out of nowhere.
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That parity-restorer means the versatile Tottenham wide-man is now the first player in Croatia’s history to score 10 major tournament goals for his country. He is also one of only four players, alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xherdan Shaqiri to score in each of the last three World Cups.
It’s illustrious company, but Perisic more than holds his own there. And it was his equalising goal that ultimately kept the two nations at bay, before proceedings were decided by the first penalty shoot-out of the tournament, with Croatia winning 3-1.
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Dominik Livakovic saved three penalties to steal the headlines, but Perisic’s earlier work laid the foundations for a memorable comeback. Zlatko Dalic’s men can now prepare to face either Brazil or South Korea in the quarter-finals, with deep tournament runs now becoming standard practice for the nation.
Of course, Perisic’s moment of game-changing brilliance is nothing new. The ageing yet still pre-eminently fit wide-man has been producing for some of Europe’s finest clubs since bursting onto the scene for Club Brugge over a decade ago now.
A reminder that Ivan Perišić has also represented Croatia at international level in the Beach Volleyball Mayor Series. 🏐
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 5, 2022
It may explain why Jose Mourinho was desperate to sign him during his tenure as Manchester United boss. The Portuguese has been very vocal (since leaving Old Trafford) about targets he proposed to the board, only for them to fall on deaf ears.
Perisic was among those Mourinho personally called to try and lure to England, but a deal ultimately failed to materialise. Former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward revealed in 2019 that he had to ignore Mourinho on occasion and side with his “recruitment experts”.
“It is true that there was a difference of opinion on one or two players between the manager and the recruitment department,” Woodward said in 2019.
“Sometimes, I have to be one who delivers the ‘no’, which isn’t easy, because our natural tendency is to back the manager in every possible circumstance, but we have to listen to the recruitment experts too.”
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Perisic himself has since opened up about the failed move, saying he was desperate to join Man Utd in 2017 and even spoke with Mourinho about the possibility of moving to the North West.
“How close was I going there? Very close,” Perisic told The Athletic in 2019.
“It was an amazing thing for me when Jose called me. It was difficult to say no to him. In fact, I really, really wanted to join him and play for United.
“It was a dream of mine to play in all the big leagues. But it didn’t happen. It was painful for me. But I don’t want to go into the details. I only found out myself the real reasons two years later.”
Only four men have scored in each of the last three World Cups:
🇦🇷 Lionel Messi
🇵🇹 Cristiano Ronaldo
🇨🇭 Xherdan Shaqiri
🇭🇷 Ivan Perišić 🆕
An exclusive club. 🎟
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) December 5, 2022
Mourinho himself has been no shrinking violet when it comes to lauding Perisic’s ability. He knew what the Croat would have added to his side.
“Perisic is the kind of winger that is different to the others,” Mourinho commented in 2018.
“Normally you look at wingers and they are just fast and creative.
“But he is also physical, very physical. Fantastic in the air.