Dinamo Zagreb forward Bosko Balaban could not have wished for a better inaugural seasonas a Croatian full international, scoring six goals in his first seven games and firing up his country’s push for World Cup 2002 qualification.

During an impressive spell with the Under-21s, Balaban always looked likely to step up to the next level. Yet even his most ardent fans could not have expected him to start with sucha flourish.

Fast, direct and adroit on the ball, the 22-year-old has looked tailor-made for international football from the outset. He marked his debut for Croatia with a goal in the 1-1 friendly draw against Slovakia in August last year and has proved a non-stop World Cup scoring machine ever since.

In March, he claimed a brilliant first-half hat-trick in the 4-1 win over Latvia in Osijek, then came a headed goal in the 4-0 romp against San Marino in June, and, four days later, the only goal in the return against the Latvians.

Croatia have been in urgent need of both fresh talent and legs. The enthusiasm and flair of Balaban are just the ticket. “Balaban has done everything I asked of him and more,” says Croatia coach Mirko Jozic. “He’s having a great run of goalscoring and his self-belief is growing with every game. He’s creative as well. ”

Balaban’s career kicked off at home-town First Division club Rijeka, but he was far from prolific, scoring just six times in his first 70 League games. It was only two seasons agothat he began to find his range, finishing as the top flight’s third highest scorer with 15 goals.

That earned him a move last summer to the country’s leading club, Dinamo Zagreb, where he struck up a fine understanding with Tomislav Sokota. The goals flowed – 20 for Sokota, the League’s top scorer, and 14 for Balaban. But they were not enough for Dinamo to clinch their sixth consecutive League title – they finished a point adrift of champions Hajduk Split.

“I’ve always dreamt of being in a team that won the League, and twice I’ve come very close,” says a disappointed Balaban. “It’s very frustrating.” He may soon be facing a new challenge since he has been linked with moves to Marseille, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Fiorentina.

The latter would be an enticing destination for Balaban. His idol is Gabriel Batistuta, so long a Fiorentina hero before moving to Roma. The Croat would surely jump at the chance of following in the footsteps of ‘Batigol’.

Club Dinamo Zagreb Country Croatia
Born October 15, 1978, in Rijeka
Previous clubs Rijeka
International debut August 2000, v Slovakia
Internationalcaps 7 (6 goals)
Honours Croatian Cup 2001