It’s Wednesday 11 July 2018. I’m sitting in Zagreb, Croatia. Only hours to the FIFA World Cup Semi-final match where Croatia plays against England! The whole of Croatia is geared up to watch the game and celebrate. It’s an atmosphere that takes ones breath away with the glory of patriotic love and pride.
In the country that has been my second home for decades – Australia – things seem much the same. Croatians have contributed significantly to the development and well-being of the Australian society for more than a hundred and fifty years and at times like today, when Croatia and England lock forces against each other in a football (soccer) match, what a great feeling it is to know that Australians in their masses will be cheering Croatia on – to win!
Oliver Murray, of news.com.au, writes why Australians should support the Croatian team.
“The Croatian community’s influence on football in Australia over the past 30 years has been vast.
Writing for The Guardian in 2013, Joe Gorman said: ‘The Croatian community has been a cradle of Australian football, with clubs big and small having nurtured generations of Australian talent.’
One of Australia’s greatest Socceroos, Mark Viduka, was nurtured at former NSL club Melbourne Croatia (now Melbourne Knights).
He dominated the NSL so much with his goalscoring ability, the Croatian president at the time, Franjo Tudjman, personally flew to Australia to convince him to sign for Dinamo Zagreb in 1995.
Viduka spoke about how important being part of the Melbourne Croatia club was when he was growing up.
‘Me and my dad, we were part of this whole thing. I’ve got four sisters and they used to come to every game,’ Viduka said.
‘We watched Melbourne Croatia play and hoped to God. When I look at a player who is not Croatian, and I think of him playing for my club, I probably loved him more than I did the Croatian players.
‘I grew up with people — not just Croats — different nationalities. We were a football family. We were Europeans. It was natural for us to play football, because that was what our parents showed us first — that was their game, a European game.
‘Aussie kids who were born here with an Australian background, usually they went to play cricket or footy or something else.’
Look at Australia’s squad from the breakthrough 2006 World Cup and you can see Croatia’s influence.
Viduka, along with Tony Popovic, Jason Culina, Josip Skoko, Ante Covic, Zeljko Kalac and Mark Bresciano had Croatian heritage.
And that doesn’t even mention the three Australian-born players — Josip Simunic, Joey Didulica and Anthony Seric — who were part of the Croatia squad in 2006.
Turn on the TV to watch football in Australia and hosts or former players on the screen will likely have Croatian links. From SBS host Lucy Zelic to her brother and former Socceroo Ned Zelic and Mark Bosnich on Fox Sports.
Even the current Socceroos squad owes a credit to Croatian clubs, with captain Mile Jedinak a product of Sydney United.
No other community has produced more Socceroos than the Croatian community.
And for a country of only four million to be just one game away from the World Cup final is impressive in itself.
There is no denying the strong link between Australia and the UK. It is on show in nearly every aspect of life in Australia on a daily basis.
But in our recent footballing history, Australia probably owes more to Croatia than any other nation.
It’s why we should let the England bandwagon go past and jump on Croatia’s instead.”