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.