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

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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.

U.S. Open Cup roundup: Poku lifts Miami; Red Bulls, Cincy win on PKs

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While MLS represents the majority of the remaining clubs in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, one side continues to defy the odds.

[ MORE: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson ]

Miami FC reached their first quarterfinal in club history after knocking off Atlanta United late on Wednesday, behind a goal and an assist from Kwadwo Poku. The victory for Miami sets up a date with FC Cincinnati — who pulled off an unbelievable shootout win against the Chicago Fire.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution both advanced on the night with wins over the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, respectively. The Red Bulls and Revs will meet in the final eight as well.

Sporting KC kept its hope of hoisting a fourth U.S. Open Cup title alive on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. The 2015 winners will take on FC Dallas — who defeated the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday night.

Here are all the results from tonight’s Open Cup action.

Houston Dynamo 0-2 Sporting KC
New England Revolution 2-1 D.C. United
Miami FC 3-2 Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls 1-1 (5-3 on PKs) Philadelphia Union
FC Cincinnati 0-0 (3-1 on PKs) Chicago Fire
San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Seattle Sounders
LA Galaxy 2-0 Sacramento Republic

Report: City Football Group set to expand outreach with Girona deal

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City Football Group appears on the verge of adding to its global outreach, and it’s next destination looks to be in Spain.

[ MORE: Are Southampton’s days of selling behind the club? ]

The group of investors, which are known for controlling Premier League side Manchester City, are reportedly nearing a deal to purchase a partial stake in Spanish club Girona — which is set to make its La Liga debut in 2017/18.

CFG is said to be gaining a near “50 percent” stake in the club, with the rest of the club owned by Media Base, a company owned by Pep Guardiola‘s brother, Pere.

Over recent years, CFG has vastly expanded its ownership outreach and currently has a stake in five clubs around the world, with Girona set to be the sixth.

MLS side New York City FC, Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC, Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay are all part of the CFG enterprise, alongside Man City.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.