Frankfurt's brilliant Balkan trio out to make history against Chelsea
Eintracht Frankfurt's Serbia striker Luka Jovic may have grabbed the headlines and turned the heads of Europe's top clubs with his goals this season, but he is just one of a trio of brilliant Balkans in Frankfurt's ranks.
Alongside 21-year-old talent Jovic, Croatia forward Ante Rebic, 25, and Serbian wing-back Filip Kostic, 26, make up a blistering Balkan trio who have helped fire unfancied Frankfurt into the semi-finals of the Europa League, where they face Chelsea in the first leg on Thursday.
While Jovic has earned plaudits in the Bundesliga and beyond with his form in front of goal, Rebic has remained the beating heart of Frankfurt?s attack, and Kostic has gone from relegation flop to European success story.
The three players are emblematic of Frankfurt?s success in recent years, the result of dedicated hard work, clever transfers and fearless football.
- Goals galore -
The Balkan triumvirate have scored over half of Frankfurt?s 58 Bundesliga goals this season, and added 21 league assists for good measure. They have been involved in all but one of Frankfurt?s last 13 goals in all competitions.
In fact, German pundits have become so used to praising Jovic, Kostic and Rebic that they have even begun to forget the names of their team mates. In February, a Sky commentator accidentally referred to Frankfurt midfielder Sebastian Rode as "Rodic".
The club reacted with a cheeky wink, tweeting a squad list in which all the players names? had been "Balkanised", from goalkeeper "Kevin Trapp-ic" to French striker "Sebastien Haller-ic".
Jovic has been the shining star at the top of the triangle, scoring 25 goals in a breakthrough season at Frankfurt and catching the eye of some of Europe?s top clubs.
Having arrived as an unknown quantity on loan two years ago from Benfica, Jovic is now one of Europe?s most coveted strikers, with Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic comparing him to Barcelona?s Luis Suarez.
Barcelona are one of several clubs, including Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Thursday?s opponents Chelsea, who have been linked to Serbian star.
Yet Jovic, who Frankfurt coach Adi Huetter describes as a "goal machine" -- especially after he scored five in one league game last October -- has just signed a contract keeping him at Eintracht until 2023.
Croatian international Rebic also recently extended his contract to 2022, rebuffing interest from Bayern Munich.
The stocky attacking midfielder scored a brace against Bayern in Frankfurt?s German Cup final triumph last season, just months before reaching the World Cup Final with Croatia.
The star man last year, he has been the unsung hero of Frankfurt?s attack this season, with tenacious pressing and pinpoint through balls.
His ability to unlock a defence was on full display against Stuttgart last month, when he set up Kostic with a brilliant pass to notch up his fourth assist of the season.
The 3-0 win proved a special game for Serbian winger Kostic, who grabbed two goals against his old club.
After he was relegated with Stuttgart and Hamburg in recent years, many were surprised when Frankfurt decided to sign Kostic at the beginning of the season.
- 'Top drawer' -
Yet the Serbian is a player transformed under Huetter this season, proving deadly on the counter-attack with 12 assists and nine goals.
"When I arrived, the perception was that he was a bottom-drawer player, and I didn?t understand it," said Huetter in February. "Now he is in the top drawer."
Kostic has since been linked with Inter Milan, and as with Rebic and Jovic, Frankfurt can hope to make a significant profit if and when they sell him.
For now, though, the focus is on Chelsea and a chance to make history.
The last time the club made a European final, in 1980, Croatia and Serbia were still part of Yugoslavia.
Forty years on, the Balkan trio are out to write a new chapter for Frankfurt.
? 2019 AFP