ZAGREB Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic needs to get back playing regularly for Inter Milan not only to rekindle his flailing Serie A career but to keep his place in the national team's starting line-up, the 19-year old has said.
Kovacic, who moved to Inter from Dinamo Zagreb in 2012, thrived in a deeper role in his first season in Italy under Andrea Stramaccioni but has struggled as an attacking midfielder this season, with Walter Mazzari in charge.
"I did not expect this kind of situation at Inter because I was a regular starter under the previous coach, while I am now confined to the bench or even less," Kovacic told Croatian media ahead of their friendly against Switzerland in St. Gallen on Wednesday.
"It is a tough moment for me and my confidence is very low, but it's up to me to adjust, work hard to prove my worth to the present coach at Inter and hit top form in time for the World Cup," he said.
Kovacic was instrumental in the qualifiers, having shone in a 2-0 home win over neighbours Serbia and the 2-0 aggregate playoff defeat of Iceland which sent the Croatians through to the finals.
Croatia open their World Cup campaign against hosts Brazil and also play Cameroon and Mexico in Group A, while the Swiss are in Group E alongside Ecuador, France and Honduras.
Kovacic conceded that no warm-up match could be a barometer of what lies in store against the Brazilians but emphasised that the Swiss would be a good test of Croatia's credentials.
"No one measures up to Brazil at this point but Switzerland are a very good side and we must take this game very seriously," he said.
"Gokhan Inler, Valon Behrami and Blerim Dzemaili are very good defensively, while Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are dangerous when they come forward."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic, editing by Mitch Phillips