Soccer-Croatia's Suker asks fans to respect Serbian rivals

BELGRADE, March 12 (Reuters) - Croatian Football Association (HNS) president Davor Suker has asked his country's fans not to jeer Serbia's national anthem when the two bitter Balkan rivals meet in a World Cup qualifier in Zagreb on March 22.

"We will be treated the same way in Belgrade as the way they are treated here and I wish I had a magic wand to make sure that Serbia's national anthem is not jeered," the former Real Madrid striker told Serbia's state Tanjug news agency on Tuesday.

"Serbia's Football Association chief Tomislav Karadzic and general secretary Zoran Lakovic are my friends, we are on the same mission of crushing hooliganism in our two countries and a sportsmanlike atmosphere in our two qualifiers would be very welcome," he said.

The comments by Suker, who won the 1998 Champions League with Real and reached the World Cup semi-finals with Croatia the same year, came on the back of efforts by Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic to defuse tension ahead of the potentially explosive Group A clash.

Having included applauding the opposition's national anthem in the Serbian players' code of conduct when he took over in May, Mihajlovic said last month the bitter memories of Balkan conflicts that tore apart the former Yugoslavia should take a back seat to football.

In a bid to allay fears of crowd trouble, the two federations have agreed not to ask for tickets for away fans at the qualifier and the reverse fixture on Sept. 6 in Serbia's capital.

Croatia top the group alongside Belgium with 10 points from four games, six more than third-placed Serbia, and Suker acknowledged that a win would be a big step towards next year's finals in Brazil.

"We are the favourites but have to prove it on the pitch as we want to seal a berth in next year's tournament as soon as possible," he said.

"Of course, Serbia have a talented team trying to get back into the hunt and we are aware of the threat they can pose on the pitch." (Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Clare Fallon)