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Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 17:09 UK

Kranjcar eyes more Wembley glory

Niko Kranjcar

By Andrew McKenzie

There once was a time when reputations meant nothing in the FA Cup.

It was the competition where, more than any other, the footballing form book went out of the window.

That window has been largely nailed shut in recent years as the Cup has been passed around the 'big four' of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal since 1995.

The days when the likes of Coventry and Wimbledon could lift football's oldest trophy looked to be a thing of the past.

But this season the underdogs have fought back.

With the big boys all now gone, Portsmouth find themselves tagged as the unlikely favourites for the competition.

It is more to do with them being the Premier League's only survivors than their cup credentials.

They have not been to the FA Cup final since 1939, when they were winners, and have not reached the semi-finals since 1992.

When you see the quality of players I'm not surprised. We all knew we had a great group of individuals, but we play well as a team and we have players who can finish a football match

Niko Kranjcar
Pompey manager Harry Redknapp, with over 40 years experience in the game, is aiming to make his first cup final as a player or manager.

Skipper Sol Campbell, striker Kanu and defender Lauren were all FA Cup winners with Arsenal - but at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

But at least Redknapp can count on someone with some recent happy experience at Wembley.

England fans will not want to be reminded of Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar's contribution under the arch last November.

It was his shot that deceived goalkeeper Scott Carson and helped put pay to England's European Championship qualification hopes.

A dark day for English football but a source of glowing pride for the 23-year-old from Zagreb.

"My first time at Wembley was great. A great game, great for the national team and a great result," he told BBC Sport.

"Scoring meant it was a great day personally as well and I hope Wembley stays a lucky stadium for me."

Niko Kranjcar scores for Croatia against England
Kranjcar's goal took the wind out of England's sails at Wembley

Pompey, who saw off Manchester United at Old Trafford in the previous round, meet five-time winners West Brom in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Kranjcar is determined to make sure there will be no further upsets.

"It is going to be a special day and the players can't wait for it to start," he added.

"It's a great stadium. There is a big history behind it but now it's a new stadium, one of best in the world and it looks great.

"We know what a great opportunity we have to win the trophy but we know it is going to be a difficult task for us.

"We have been favourites in every game except Manchester United so we are used to it. In the semi-finals and finals there are no favourites.

"Maybe on paper there are some slight favourites but on the pitch you have to prove you are the better team. The better team on that day hopefully will win and hopefully that will be us.

"But football is a sport where anything can happen, where you can do your best and create chances but the other team gets away with a win.

"Football is unpredictable but the important thing for us is to play some great football and try to do everything to go to the final."

Kranjcar scored Pompey's winner as they came from behind to beat Plymouth in the fourth round.

FA CUP SEMI-FINALS ON 606
belperman

Signed by Redknapp for 3.5m in the summer of 2006, he has become a hugely popular figure at Fratton Park.

But not everything has gone so smoothly in his career.

A teenage star with Dynamo Zagreb and a full international when barely out of his teens, he caused a Sol Campbell-like storm by signing for rivals Hajduk Split.

Current Portsmouth defender Campbell may have been criticised by Tottenham fans for moving to Arsenal in 2001 but Kranjcar's agent was murdered in an apparent mafia hit and the player also faced accusations of favouritism during his father Zlatko Kranjcar's time as national coach.

It is perhaps no surprise that he is enjoying life under Redknapp, who signed his own son Jamie at both Bournemouth and Southampton.

"Our relationship is great," said Kranjcar. "The players he has brought in are fantastic and we hope we can get to fifth spot and get to Europe.

"We are still in the hunt for the FA Cup, which is a massive achievement for Pompey, and it wouldn't happen if the manager wasn't as good as he is.

"When you see the quality of players I'm not surprised. We all knew we had a great group of individuals but we play well as a team and we have players who can finish a football match.

"Hopefully it will continue to get better until the end of the season. It has been a great season but it won't count for anything if we don't go all the way.

"You can say we made the semi-finals but knowing we have a great chance to win it we have to do everything in our power to go all the way."

A Pompey triumph may not provide the ultimate fairytale finale that a Barnsley or Cardiff victory would.

But for Kranjcar, who grew up watching FA Cup finals on TV in Croatia, it would be a fitting end to a season that has seen the rebirth of his own reputation.


see also
West Brom v Portsmouth
03 Apr 08 |  FA Cup
Lawro's predictions
03 Apr 08 |  Football
Portsmouth match reaction
04 Apr 08 |  FA Cup
Kiely focuses on Cup not critics
04 Apr 08 |  West Bromwich Albion
We should seize moment - Mowbray
04 Apr 08 |  West Bromwich Albion
Bald Eagle backs Pompey in Cup
02 Apr 08 |  Portsmouth
Anderton backs Pompey in FA Cup
01 Apr 08 |  Portsmouth
Clement hopes for Wembley place
04 Apr 08 |  West Bromwich Albion
Man Utd 0-1 Portsmouth
08 Mar 08 |  FA Cup
Preston 0-1 Portsmouth
17 Feb 08 |  FA Cup
Portsmouth v Plymouth
24 Jan 08 |  FA Cup
Ipswich 0-1 Portsmouth
05 Jan 08 |  FA Cup
Kranjcar confident over Euro spot
27 Feb 08 |  Portsmouth
England 2-3 Croatia
21 Nov 07 |  Internationals


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