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EURO 2012: A Final Look In

July 12, 2012

The Uvanović's representing in Gdansk, Poland

Photo: Rob Uvanovic/CroatianSports.com

 

 

Written by Rob Uvanović

 

 

I’ve been waiting my whole life to watch the Croatian national team play live – and by traveling to Euro 2012 with my father and having the privilege to watch all three Croatia matches, we were both able to check something off our bucket list. As a Croatian-American that grew up in the US, the Vatreni have always been a mythical figure in our house, so adored they are. Thus, it’s with high hopes that we traveled to Poland for the trip of a lifetime. 

 

 

Croatian fans certainly didn’t disappoint as they were even louder and more colorful than I’d envisioned from watching on the television, while the squad itself was as brave as we’ve seen in many years. 

 

 

Prior to the Italy match, there was a story written and published by Fox Sports that can best be described as weak journalism. Ante posted it on the CroatianSports.com with my feedback, as my father and I were both in the Poznan square prior to the match watching the same scenes. I honestly think that the reporter was simply intimidated by being in the square with so many loud, passionate Croats, singing songs that he or she could not understand. Within the article, there were some hysterical lines such as the Croatian fans were: “bare chested despite chilly weather” and “taunted” the minority of Italian fans in the square. Oh no, soccer fans taunting each other? I’ve never heard of such a thing!

 

 

Better yet, it goes on to say that “police, some in riot gear, monitored the situation, but did not intervene.” This line is cleverly used by the author to manipulate the audience into believing that the police think something is happening or are concerned. Because of the violence in Poznan square on the day before the Croatia-Ireland match, every single policeman was in full riot gear for the entire two weeks. Saying “police in riot gear were watching” is basically akin to saying that the sky was blue and the bars were serving beer. 

 

 

Was there Ustaša singing/symbols and Gotovina idolatry? Yes. Every Croatian has their own perspective on that, but in this article it’s clearly being used by the author to draw conclusions about the entire Croatian crowd.   

 

 

Going into the Italy match after reading that article, I was full of hope that our fans would once again prove that they were the best in the world and show that such examples of biased journalism published back to the States were not justified. Yet, it was the Italy game that really took some of the gloss off the Euros for me and left me torn as a Croatian fan. Hearing Balotelli get racially abused at the match was something that I am not honestly surprised about, but it is one that disappoints me to the highest order. Granted it’s nearly impossible to feel sympathy for Balotelli considering the enigma that he is and the fact that he stands for everything that is wrong with soccer today, with his sulking attitude and free-spending habits bankrolled by oil money. But in the end, no one deserves racial abuse.  

 

 

It was so disappointing to clearly hear audible racial abuse directed towards Balotelli, but even more concerning was the lack of concern shown by other Croatian fans in the crowd and the general Croatian public in the weeks following the match. Only Bilić and the HNS (which obviously had to) took public action to distance themselves from the abuse. The Croatian news media didn’t really seem to bat an eyelash, in fact, many thought it was a joke. 

 

 

In Croatian society, people are sometimes afraid to criticize the status quo and speak out regarding issues that go against the mainstream. As a Croat, I want to come out as loud as possible and condemn the racial abuse our fans displayed, which is both shameful and embarrassing to Croats as a people, country and footballing nation. Sadly, in a few years, the rest of the world will look back at the Euros and not remember Croatia as the team that came inches away from defeating the world champions, but the country that was charged by UEFA in all three matches and guilty of what must be one of the first notable instances of racial abuse going on at a major tournament. 

 

 

Croatia is obviously not the most diverse country in the world, and instances such as Eduardo and Sammir cause serious debate for some Croats who believe that only pure-blood should be allowed to be Croatian, nevermind play for the repka. For what it’s worth, I fully believe that Eduardo is a special case and that Sammir is simply not good enough to play for us. Even though the pure-blood argument sounds almost like I’m reading a copy of Harry Potter again, I can understand the sentiment in not wanting outsiders who don’t appreciate or understand our colors to play for the Croatian national team, as I sure don’t want our national team to just start fielding players like Qatar does with no ties to the country. I simply ask Croats, if you can honestly say that you would feel the same way about Sammir if he was white and Catholic, then great, but hearing the reaction from these discussions about Sammir, it’s obvious there is a racial element as well. 

 

 

As a CroatianSports.com writer, follower and fan, I condemn the racist behavior of our fans during this tournament. Croatia is a beautiful country – far too beautiful to be tarnished by this behavior of a section of our fans. Racism has no place in society, especially not in soccer. Our fans provide the national team with the best support in the world – there is no doubt about that. Let the rest of the world see that support and enjoy it, for it’s a truly remarkable sight to see. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fanzone Poland: Final thoughts

 

 

Modrić and Mandžukić will clearly get the plaudits for their performance at the Euros, and deservedly so, but for me the breakout player for us at the Euros was Ivan Strinić. I thought the way he was able to be a threat down the flanks was remarkable and think that he has that spot locked up on the squad for years to come. 

 

 

After months of concern, one can only say that UEFA was justified in awarding the Euros to Poland/Ukraine and bringing the tournament to Eastern Europe for the first time. All the logistical concerns have been washed away and both countries have been great hosts. There were racism and violence concerns about the hosts, but the traveling countries have provided much more challenges to Poland and Ukraine as opposed to their own fans. One must seriously question the decision to bring the World Cup to Russia in 2018 after their fans’ behavior. 

 

 

If that was a good decision by UEFA, well you are probably thinking what I thought about Croatia’s fine for racism. In a tournament where they declared zero tolerance to racism, I think it’s an absolute joke. Especially when you consider Bendtner’s fine. Yes I get it – they had to fine him a large amount of money to send a message about flashing advertisements and am fine with his amount, but the message it sends to the world about being serious about racism is laughable. How are fans supposed to actually think racism is wrong when the fine is simply a slap on the wrist?

 

 

I was in the airport the morning after the Spain match in Gdansk and witnessed the hysterical scene of a sharp-eyed Croatian fan spotting the UEFA referee crew going through airport security. He ran straight up to Wolfgang Stark and chanted “you denied us two clear penalties, shame on you!” in his face. Stark was quickly ushered away, but Croatian fans can rest assured that their anger was at least vocalized to Stark’s face by this one fan. 

 

 

In the Spain match, I was sitting in the second tier in the Croatian section, about 20 rows from the back of the stadium and nowhere close to the pitch. In the fourth minute, you may remember for the third game running, the referee had to stop the match because of flare smoke. Some Croatian idiot threw a flare from two rows in front of me – which had absolutely no chance of making it to the field. Luckily it didn’t seriously injure somebody on the way down and landed in the stairs on the first tier of the stadium. It’s instances like these that make you wonder why these people are at matches, other than to cause trouble. 

 

 

I’ve read comments on the site about how it’s security’s responsibility to stop this from happening and to not allow flares into the crowd. I could not agree more and could not believe the response by the Polish security officers who were no more than 15 feet away. They did not even move. Almost every fan is our section was pointing at the fan who threw the flare and yet security did not care in the least. What one would have to do to get removed from their seat by security, I seriously do not know. When you hire cowards to police these matches, you only ask for trouble, which is one of the reasons why some of this behavior was allowed to continue and even flourish during Euro 2012. 

 

 

To cap it all off, I traveled all the way to Poland to end up randomly sitting next to my good friend and star of Team Croatia at the NYC Cosmos Copa, Andrej Bjegović. It’s a small world after all. 

 
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Ante Kvartuč
Posted By: Ante Kvartuč 17 comments





  1. JP says:

    Nice report Rob and good work getting the inside scoop for Team CSR at the Euro’s!

    Just to add my two cents to the mix, I too was at the final two HRV matches, unfortunately due to the circumstances of my trip I wasn’t able to help out the site with any content, but I can add my views from being there…

    - This too was my first time seeing the NT in live action and the fact that it was a major tournament made it even better.

    - The spirit of our fans is truly incredible, I can’t say that I’ve ever witnessed such heart from a group of supporters. I wasn’t able to witness the Ireland game, although my “ekipa” (all Purgeri and German Hrvati, if you’re interested to know) tells me that the Irish were great and matched, if not exceeded, our spirit.

    - I was both in Gdansk and in Poznan, and truthfully I didn’t see a single problem with any supporters, let alone the Croatian supporters. Nothing but good natured ribbing, a lot of picture taking with opposite supporter groups, and of course singing and flag waving. Nary a fight and nothing even close to an altercation.

    - The Poles were excellent hosts, I don’t think that you could ask for much more. Poznan is a nice city, and Gdansk is truly a gem of a place. When you add in the sister cities of Sopot and Gdynia, this area of the Polish Baltic is truly a place to see. For those of you familiar with Opatija, Sopot is a larger version of it. Great beach town.

    - Also, I didn’t encounter any of the racist stuff at the Italy or Spain game. From what I could see our fans were great both in and around the stadia. Mostly nervous about the results and giving their best to support the team. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that some racist comments probably occurred, but like any other nation we have our share of “Maimuni” who are ignorant. Not sure if we have more or less than average, but we’re certainly not alone in this regard.

    - Spanish fans were cool, can’t say anything about the Italians as there hardly were any during the pre-game buildup in the old town of Poznan. In fact, there were more Irish lingering in Gdansk than Italians that were in Posnan.

    - The Repka’s play was inspiring, and with a break or two going our way, the sky is the limit for what the team could have accomplished. We’re still unbeaten against the Italians and outside of maybe Portugal, we gave Spain it’s best match of the tourney. This Spanish team may be the best that has ever played (ie 3 major tourney wins in a row) so the game we gave Spain is truly something to be proud of. Modric is now in the same class as Xavi and Iniesta, he’d start for Spain, and if he goes to Real, him and Ozil will be lethal together.

    - For me Jelavic was the biggest disappointment, the bottom line is that he doesn’t suit the style of play of the rest of the team. Maybe that will change with the Stimac regime, but I’ve always thought that we had better options. My next biggest
    (and a related) disappointment is that Dudu never got a chance in this tourney. With the way Mandzo was playing, Dudu and him would have been nice complements to one another.

    - I don’t agree in regard to Strinic, yes, a great cross to Mandzo against the Italians, but he’s a liability in the back, and he’s awful in the sense that Pleti had to play English long ball the entire tournament, because he knows that he can’t roll the ball out to Strinic in the back. This hurt us more than you can imagine.

    - Kudos to Schifo and Charli they were tremendous in this tourney and gives us a strong core in the centre moving forward. Also Rakitic, Pranjic, and Vuki ran their asses off in this tourney.

    - Moving forward, I’d like us to move forward from Srna, and especially as captain. I’d give the armband to Modric or Charli. Srna’s one dimensional right foot is a liability and we’ll do better overall without his histrionics on the turf.

    Anyway, overall the tournament was great and so now it’s up to all of you to begin your savings accounts for Brasil!



  2. Jelic says:

    Nice balanced piece Rob, well done!

    I was at the famous CRO-ENG game at Wembley when we won 3-2 and the first game against Austria we won 1-0 and you’re absolutely right, everyone should experience a CRO National team game at least once in their life time.

    Truly amazing!

    P.S. If some of the idiots can be cleaned up through a concerted effort by all sides, it will be even better.



  3. Mike says:

    Jelic

    I was at that England/Hrvatska game too. Row 14 on the corner flag where Petric scored the goal I’ll never forget. Being at Picadilly circus before the game was amazing. You both are right seeing the NT play live is something everyone needs to see. No matter how many stories you hear or videos you watch there’s nothing like watching them play live



  4. Poglavnik says:

    Excellent piece Rob!
    I would love to go to another major tournament.
    Only game I went to was against Japan @ WC ’98 in Nantes, France.
    Very different than what I imagine a game to be these days.
    Looking back at my pictures the other week I was surprised to see so few Croatian jerseys in the crowd, and then I remembered how hard it was to find Croatian merchandise in France that year.
    It wasn’t til before the quarter finals that I found an authentic Lotto jersey and it was in a tiny Arabic run soccer shop that I stumbled upon in a shady arrondissement. So many of the Parisien Hrvati were asking me where to get them cuz they had no idea as well.
    Also smoking in the stands is something that i will always miss. I can’t imagine you can get away with that now adays.



  5. Jelic says:

    Mike, we were up near the press box in that corner section; managed to beat on the ceiling tiles to make more noise every time we scored. Two things I remember about that game;

    1. 10,000 Croats completely drowning out the Brits who were at least 60,000 strong!
    2. The sight of the people in charge of the betting window in the stadium having to scramble after the game to get more cash to pay off all the jubilant Croatian fans standing in line waiting to collect! Me and my buddy won 300 pounds on a 20 pound lark bet….sweeeeet!

    Yeah, that Picadilly Circus scene was awesome I got some neat pictures of it. I was a little worried there might be English hooligans stepping up but everything was peacefull the way it should be.

    Stay well!



  6. JP says:

    @ Poglavnik

    No problem smoking in the stands in Poland :)

    @ Everyone else

    Definitely, everyone who is a Hrvat should experience a NT game. This certainly won’t be my last tourney if I can help it!



  7. Tony says:

    mike and jelic, I was at that wembley game as well, but not in the cro section. That didn’t stop me and a handful of Croats from celebrating like we just won the WC.

    Funniest part for me was the nite before the game in Piccadilly circus with hundreds or Croats signing “Krajlica je curva…krajlica je curva! Etc…” and laughing our asses off



  8. Anonymous says:

    Kako nekima malo treba da se zabave i naprave budale od sebe…..i svojega naroda…………..



  9. Mike says:

    @jelic and tony

    I remember talking to a cop at Picadilly circus and asking if they had a problem with all of us drinking and all that but they were cool with it which was good to hear

    Dont know if you guys remember but before the game they had the army walk around the field and everyone was cheering “vukovar” when they came by our section.

    It wasn’t even funny how loud we were compared to the English fans. They easily outnumbered us. I think they announced attendance was around 85000 or something and about 10000 Croats but the entire game all you heard was us





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