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Documentary helps Josip Simunic continue his fight to clear his name after FIFA ban

They were three small words that were "interpreted the worst way possible", linking him to Croatian fascists and Nazi Germany. Three words that effectively ended his international career.

Canberra-born Josip Simunic is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in an attempt to clear his name and is showing his side of the story with a documentary about the incident.

Simunic, who is back in Canberra promoting the film, said he is still fighting the 10-game ban FIFA imposed on him and a charge of disturbing the peace that resulted from an incident at the end of his 105th game for Croatia.

But he has repeatedly denied his chant was related to Nazi sympathisers and was simply an expression of patriotism.

It was November 19, 2013, and Croatia had just beaten Iceland to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

The now 37-year-old Simunic chanted "Za dom", which means "For homeland", and the crowd replied "Spremni" - "Ready".


Because a similar chant has links with the Ustase, a Croatian fascist group who were allies with the Nazis, FIFA handed Simunic a hefty ban that led to him missing what would have been his third World Cup.

At the time the defender was Croatia's most-capped player, but he never played for them again and two of his former teammates have since surpassed his games tally.

Simunic strongly denied the chant was intended in the negative way it has been portrayed.

"Unfortunately the way I've been portrayed is an absolute disgrace. I'd use the word discrimination, but I think it's even worse than discrimination," he told Fairfax Media.

"It's unfortunate, but that's how it is and one of the ways I'm going to show people who don't really understand the whole topic about what happened, I want to show them through making a film - eventually I'll write a book.

"I want to show people the truth, how it was from my side and how it was all meant, nothing bad, unfortunately it was interpreted the worst way possible.

"That's unfortunate, but that's how it is, that's my destiny and it's up to me to try and show as many people the exact truth because what happened was an absolute disgrace.

"A lot of people don't really know what [the chant] means. It's been used various times throughout Croatian history dating back to the 12th century, but it's unfortunate that it's been associated with a chant that happened in World War II."

Simunic has been to Melbourne, Geelong, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Canberra promoting the film over the last week.

He was at Canberra FC's Deakin club on Friday night, where his soccer career started, and has another appearance at O'Connor on Sunday at 6pm.

Simunic inherited his love for Croatia from his parents, who were born there before migrating to Australia.

After starting out as a junior with Canberra FC, he then played for the Melbourne Knights in the now defunct National Soccer League and was part of the Knights' 1996 championship.

He spent 13 seasons in Germany with Hamburg, Hertha Berlin and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, before finishing his career with Croatian powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb.

Croatia contacted him about playing for their national team when he was still with the Knights.

While his international career was with Croatia, it was intrinsically linked with the Socceroos.

When the two teams played at the 2006 World Cup, he was bizarrely shown three yellow cards and only sent off after the third one, which occurred after the final whistle.

He thinks his Aussie accent fooled the referee and the first yellow was given to Socceroos defender Craig Moore because they both wore No.3.

The game finished two-all, with the Socceroos progressing to the knockout phase at Croatia's expense.

"I always wanted to play for Croatia, we've had a very difficult history. I'm a proud Australian and thank God I was born in Australia, I love this country, but my heritage, my ancestry is from Croatia and that's just the way I've been brought up," Simunic said.

"It was something I always wanted to do, it was just in me."

While Simunic's professional playing days are done, he hasn't ruled out a playing return at Canberra FC where it all began.

But that might have to wait - he's now an assistant coach with Croatia and is studying his coaching badges, with plans to set up an academy in the ACT.

While he said the appointment of Ange Postecoglou as Socceroos coach had been fantastic for Australian soccer, he felt youth development was an area Australia has fallen behind.

He said it was an "absolute joke" former AIS coach Ron Smith - who played a massive role in the development of players such as Mark Viduka and Ned Zelic - was no longer there.

Smith nominated Tom Rogic for Nike's The Chance, which kick-started the Celtic midfielder's career.

"I think it's an absolute joke that people like Ron Smith, who was my coach at the Australian Institute of Sport and did great things with a lot of players that came out of the Institute," Simunic said.

"The guy's a genius ... since Ron's been gone from the Institute there haven't been many players who have gone further and made it to Europe, which is very interesting."


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