Moscow: More than borders, football defined Croatia as a new nation. Few had known about the Balkan country’s existence until they upset the mighty Germany in the quarter-final of the 1998 World Cup. When Croatian fans say football means the world to them, they are not being imaginative.
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that football helped Croatia forge an identity after a bloody ethnic war with Serbia had left the country in ruins in the early 90s. That is why the class of 1998, spearheaded by the event’s top goal-scorer Davor Suker, would be etched in the nation’s hearts forever.
That football is more than a game for Croatia became evident when Zvonimir Boban attacked a Serbian policeman with a karate kick for hitting a hapless Croat fan on the pitch during a derby between Dinamo Zagreb and Redstar Belgrade in 1990. Boban became a folk hero among Croatian nationalists.
Boban was a player of Dinamo who embodied Croatian aspirations for a separate nation. And, derbies between Dinamo and Redstar Belgrade of Serbia used to be war minus shooting in football.
If Croatia took baby steps as a nation thanks to Suker and co., the country has come of age following the stellar efforts of Luka Modric’s team.