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By ESPN Staff

Croatia coach under fire for selection of 'Fatty'

ZAGREB, May 31 (Reuters) - Croatia coach Zlatko Kranjcar has been increasingly criticised by fans and the media for selecting his son as the team's playmaker.

Niko Kranjcar, 21, has come under scrutiny this season -- particularly his weight and alleged lack of fitness -- after it became clear he was the only person his father wanted to command the midfield.

Detractors call Niko 'fatty', others say he has vision and creativity.

Criticism of his game reached a climax after the team's dismal 2-2 draw against Iran last Sunday during which the Hajduk Split playmaker was booed by the crowd.

An angry Zlatko Kranjcar said Niko's place in the squad was guaranteed despite the critics.

"This team needs Niko, his fellow players have great confidence in him. My message to all those who are raising this 'issue' is: Leave all hope, Niko will play," Kranjcar told the Jutarnji List daily.

Newspapers lashed out against the coach, saying he was turning a blind eye to his son's shortcomings.

"Even another bad performance from Niko cannot change the strong fatherly attitude of the coach Zlatko," the Vecernji List daily said in a comment piece headlined "Fatherhood above coaching".

Jutarnji List said Niko Kranjcar had become "the most important side issue in this country", and one that could put his father on collision course with everyone, should Croatia fail to progress from group stage at the World Cup.

"Kranjcar does not want the street or the media to compose his team and is particularly sensitive about Niko, for whom he started a war against the whole world," it said.

Croatia are drawn in Group F for the World Cup finals, with Brazil, Australia and Japan. They play their first match against champions Brazil on June 13.