Some international rivalries transcend football and Croatia versus Serbia tonight in Zagreb certainly achieved that. Check out these pictures that sum up the nature of this match.
The two countries who less than 20 years ago were at war with each other were playing for more than World Cup qualification, they were playing for nationalistic pride and for the home side Croatia, the satisfaction of basically ending Serbian dreams of Brazil 2014.
The emotion before kick-off at the Maksimir Stadium was as breathtaking as I’ve ever seen. The entire stadium was bedecked in red and white squares as the crowd held aloft colored squares while the singing of the Croatian national anthem was spine tingling, and to be fair, considering the passion surrounding the match, the Serbian anthem was treated with respect.
The two coaches, Igor Stimac and Siniša Mihajlovic who have more than a little previous between them (paragraph 6) looked like they’d be ready to strap on the boots and rehash the old days which wouldn’t be out-of-place in MMA.
Stimac though will be having the last laugh as Croatia showed just why they are ranked higher than Serbia in the rankings. They bossed the match from the opening minutes and it wasn’t a surprise when Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic slotted home following a kamikaze free kick from Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov in the 24th minute.
For Kolarov to make such a simple error in a match of this importance was truly mind-boggling as it’s something you’d expect to see in a kids game.
14 minutes later Croatia killed the game off thanks to a wonderfully delivered free-kick from captain, Darijo Srna which was bundled home by Ivica Olic.
With a 2-0 lead and the most passionate crowd you’ve ever heard roaring the team along, Croatia never looked in danger throughout the rest of the match and now top group A on goal difference from Belgium who play Macedonia later tonight.
The three points for Croatia was well deserved and they looked primed to at least make the play-offs. For Serbia, it’s time to think about the return leg and making sure their rivals do not qualify automatically.
International matches that mean this much are simply un-missable.
A roundup of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…
[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga & Serie A roundup ]
Lazio 0-2 Roma
A win would have put Lazio two points clear of their capital rivals and right into the thick of the race for second. Instead, they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Olympic Stadium. Kevin Strootman put the “visitors” ahead in the 64th minute with a simple finish following Wallace‘s disastrous giveaway atop Lazio’s 18-yard box. The Dutch midfielder then proceeded to pathetically writhe around in pain after Danilo Cataldi tugged on the back of his jersey, which was allegedly instigated by Strootman spraying water on the substitute as he made his way back to midfield for the restart.
Radja Nainggolan finished off the Biancocelesti with Roma’s second goal of the game in the 77th minute, a pinpoint, bouncing effort from 30 yards out with which Federico Marchetti couldn’t cope. The Belgian broke free in the middle of the field, dribbled past a defender, and fired from distance to make it 2-0. The victory sees the Giallorossi remain just four points back of Juventus in the league table, level on points with AC Milan in the race for second.
AC Milan 2-1 Crotone
Speaking of the Rossoneri, Vincenzo Montella’s side came back from a goal down in the first half to defeat bottom-of-the-league Cronto at the San Siro Stadium. The victory keeps Milan level with Roma for that second and final automatic UEFA Champions League spot.
Crotone went 1-0 up in the 26th minute, but 21-year-old Mario Pasalic equalized four minutes before halftime with a tap-in from three yards out, followed by Gianluca Lapadula’s winner in the 86th minute, a scrappy finish following a failed clearance of a free kick, which prevented one of the most embarrassing results of the still-young season thus far.
Elsewhere in Serie A
Fiorentina 2-1 Palermo
Pescara 1-1 Cagliari
Sampdoria 2-0 Torino
Sassuolo 3-0 Empoli
| AC Milan
La Liga scoreboard
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Eibar
Real Betis 3-3 Celta Vigo
Alaves 3-1 Las Palmas
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Osasuna
Valencia 2-2 Malaga
MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent has released a document that allegedly shows the player is in compliance with Spain’s tax authority.
The document published by company Gestifute, ran by Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, allegedly shows that Spanish fiscal authorities certify that the player is “up to date on his obligations.”
The document’s release comes a day after European media outlets released what it claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Mesut Ozil.
Gestifute said Saturday, “Ronaldo has always acted in good faith in this matter, as the fact that he has never been involved in any conflict with tax authorities from any country where he has lived clearly shows.”
Gestifute also published a similar document in Mourinho’s name on Friday.
The third straight 1-1 draw for Manchester United has left Jose Mourinho little more than a broken record.
Everton scored on a late penalty to even things up, and it gave the Portuguese manager even more fodder for his tiresome narrative.
“We were the best team by far,” Mourinho said. “But we didn’t win. We had chances for 2-0, we had the ball off the post, and then we concede a goal in the last minute.”
[ RECAP: Everton grabs a point against Manchester United on a late penalty ]
When asked if his team dropped off at the end, he rejected that notion, and instead decided to lament a perceived double standard among fans and the media. Mourinho feels the focus is always on a negative, whether that is the result or the performance. “When my team wins matches playing a different [less entertaining] style of football, then what matters is the style of football, not the results. You have in these moment teams in the Premier League playing defensive and counter-attack football and getting results. That is phenomenal, in your words. When my team is playing extremely well, the results are more important.”
“I am happy that my team is playing really well, even in difficult matches like today, and it’s a problem for us that we are not getting what we deserve and it’s a problem for us that we have a position in the table that has no relation with the quality of the football we are showing.”
[ RELATED: Should Marcus Rojo have been sent off? ]
He would not comment on either of the major refereeing decisions, those being the Marcos Rojo yellow card in the 16th minute and the late penalty whistled on Marouane Fellaini.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe had time to collect himself after the Cherries stunned Liverpool, coming back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in injury time.
He was very praiseworthy of the opponents, who appeared to have an easy day after scoring twice early on before Bournemouth stormed back later.
“It was a great game, obviously from our perspective because we won, but I thought Liverpool showed their quality in the first half,” Howe said. “I thought they were excellent, but we showed a great attitude and never gave up.”
After falling behind 2-0 thanks to a pair of errors by goalkeeper Artur Boruc, it was a tough road to halftime, and although they got one back, Liverpool responded quickly to again restore the two-goal lead at 3-1. It looked bleak for the Cherries at home.
“It was a tough afternoon,” Howe said. “We knew the quality of Liverpool, we knew how they played. They did it very well, and we didn’t, we were flat, and it really took our substitutes to have a big impact in the game and liven us up.”
Finally, the Cherries boss said that he had his eye on the hero Ryan Fraser for some time, and that he knew he was ready to take his chance. “He’s been training like that for a few weeks now, I think he’s deserved his opportunity. He came on the pitch and gave us that belief.” The 22-year-old came on and scored his first Premier League goal as well as assisted two others in the comeback.