Ivan Klasnic capped a quite remarkable return to top class football just over a year after undergoing a kidney transplant operation by scoring the only goal against Poland as Croatia beat them 1-0 in their Group B Euro 2008 clash.
The 28-year-old – who underwent the successful transplant operation in March 2007 after receiving one from his father, a month after the one donated from his mother failed – had already said that he didn't come here as part of the squad just to be a fan and he showed he'd lost none of his touch by slotting home in the 53rd minute.
Klasnic became not only the first kidney transplant patient to play in a major finals but also capped it by scoring.
“I came to the Euro to play and to put in a good performance,” said Klasnic, who rejected a new contract from his Bundesliga side Werder Bremen after seven years there because he is seeking 1.5 million euros in damages against two club doctors for not diagnosing his condition over a period of five years.
“I was not here on holiday. Today (Monday), I took my chance and I can be content with that,” added Klasnic, who took his tally to nine goals in 30 internationals.
His extraordinary story was hailed as a fairytale by national coach Slaven Bilic.
Bilic, who played through the pain barrier with a fractured hip in the 1998 World Cup finals where the Croats reached the last four losing to eventual champions France, hailed Klasnic, both as a player and as a person.
“We are proud of him,” said 39-year-old Bilic, who saw his side finish their group matches with a perfect nine points.
“He is a very strong personality. We rang him when we first learnt the news about his kidney operation.
“But it was him who raised our morale.
“Now, he is not only in good health, but also back playing at a very high level.
“He is one of the leading scorers for Werder Bremen, one of the biggest clubs in the main championships (though Klasnic is now seeking a new club and will not have done any harm to his chances of finding one).
“It really is a fairytale,” added Bilic, who recalled Klasnic to the squad for the 1-1 draw in a friendly with Scotland in March.
While Klasnic's story may not quite rival that of National Hunt jockey Bob Champion in returning from cancer to win the Grand National on Aldaniti, it nevertheless ranks as one of the finest examples of willpower and courage in defying the odds – a mirror image of what his team are doing at the moment.
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