Sinisa Mihajlovic,  Tomislav Karadzic

Croatia vs. Serbia: It’s more than a football match


When Croatia and Serbia meet tomorrow night at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, the three points on offer for World Cup qualification in Group A are a mere subplot as the two nations meet for the first time since 1999.

The tie has already been dubbed the ‘match of the decade’ by the media and that’s hardly a surprise given the political and historical nature of the two countries especially as the memories of the war are still fresh.

34,000 tickets were sold within hours of the game being announced and although away fans (Serbia) have been banned there are still massive security concerns.

Croatia’s declaration of independence in June 1991 from the former Yugoslavia sparked the four-year war and claimed an estimated 20,000 lives with both sides claiming atrocities were committed on each other.

Many believe that the catalyst for this conflict began in the Maksimir Stadium on May 13, 1990 though. In a league match, Zagreb and Red Star supporters rioted and Dinamo midfielder Zvonimir Boban became a hero for Croatian nationalists by kung-fu kicking a police officer who was beating a home fan with a truncheon.

Here in the America it’s almost impossible to imagine just how horrific those 4 years were as families, neighbors, towns and villages were split apart.

Croatia captain Darijo Srna has described the game as his “most difficult match” while Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic said: “This is not only just about points …
“It’s about rivalry, prestige – and about something that will mean a lot more to some fans than to us players.”

One man who lived and played through the conflict was Sinisa Mihajlovic, the legendary hard man who kicked opponents almost as hard as his stunning free kicks.

Now the head coach of Serbia, this must read piece takes you inside his head and to the time when teammates became enemies.

Relationships between the two countries has gradually improved over the last few years but this is till considered a high risk match as Balkan football is still heavily linked to ultra-nationalist hooligans.

UEFA will be closely monitoring the game and the return leg on September 6 after warning both countries’ football federations about the need to tackle hooliganism.

I for one hope that tomorrow night we’re talking about a fantastic atmosphere and an even better game of football and nothing else.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

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Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)