11 Games to Go: Who Will be this Year’s Croatian First League Champion?

Daniela Rogulj

A look at the top three teams in the running with just 11 games to go on March 13, 2018.

What an exciting turn of events the Croatian First League has taken in the last few weeks. Plagued with poor weather, unfit stadiums, postponed matches, unbelievable losses, and managers offering their resignation, it wouldn’t be the wonderful world of Croatian sport we know and love without these hiccups – and because of them, the Spring Season of HNL is more interesting than ever.

Though we’re used to seeing Dinamo carry the reigns of the First League – apart from last year’s upset to Rijeka – a clear shot at the Championship title and once 12 points ahead of the second place team looks much different for the Zagreb club today. Just six points ahead of Hajduk who hold a comfortable second place, and Rijeka only three points behind them in third, it’s safe to say that predicting an ending and naming a champion would be unfair – because right now, anything could happen. 

Here’s why. 

After Sunday’s derby at City Garden against Osijek, Hajduk will play four of their next five games at home – and after Saturday’s game at Maksimir against Rudeš, Dinamo will play four of their next five games away. 

Although Dinamo sits in first with a six-point advantage, considering the form and atmosphere at both clubs, all pundits have said that spectators should look forward to an entertaining fight for the HNL title this season. And we can’t rule out Rijeka who, although a substantial nine points behind the frontrunner, has considerably picked up their game lately and could be the darkhorse to defend the title.

There are 11 games left in the Croatian First League to take the teams to the end of the season, resulting in 33 points left to win in the battle. 

Dinamo, undoubtedly, still has the highest quality team individually which should maintain or at least seriously endanger the 12-point advantage they had once upon a time. However, with poor coaching decisions, a poisoned atmosphere and players making beginner mistakes, Dinamo has been put in a situation where their chance at the title is threatened for the second consecutive year – which would be another disaster at Maksimir.

While it’s not time for Dinamo fans to panic yet, it’s hard to believe that new coach Nikola Jurčević can pick up the pieces and makeover a team that lost 4:1 to Lokomotiva just a few days ago. We know the kind of transformation needed is unlikely to happen overnight, and if we’re honest, that Dinamo team on the pitch looked as though they had never played football before in their lives. Dinamo’s schedule is yet another hurdle standing in the way of the Zagreb club and their championship title. After their match against Rudeš, Dinamo will face Osijek, Rijeka and Inter away, with unpleasant visits to Poljud and Koprivnica. The team will also have to face Lokomotiva once more, who can apparently no longer be called the ‘little’ brother of the famous club.

If Rijeka didn’t suffer from October to November last year when they celebrated just one point in five games, they would certainly not be nine points behind – but they are not without a chance. Kek’s team is playing excellent football, and they’ve scored ten goals in the last three games, but the issue could lie in the four consecutive away matches, including Poljud, after Sunday’s match against Cibalia.

If, for the purposes of discussion, we assume that Dinamo visits Poljud with just a six points lead, the 31st and 32nd rounds could help us to determine the outcome. After the Eternal Derby in Split, Jurčević’s team welcomes Rijeka a week later, and Hajduk visits Koprivnica. If Hajduk beats Dinamo again, their fate will lie in the hands of the match between Dinamo and Rijeka.

With 11 games still to go, our predictions today could be worthless. Indeed, everything could change if Hajduk loses to Osijek on Sunday and if Dinamo defeats Rudeš for a +9 advantage. It’s possible that the decision will fall in the final round where Dinamo could have the power. In the previous round, Dinamo is the guest of Rudeš, and their season ends with a home game against Inter. In the 35th round Hajduk awaits Osijek, followed by the Adriatic Derby at Rujevica to bring the season to an end. 

If you ask those betting, one the thing is clear – Dinamo is at 1.30, Hajduk at 5.00, and Rijeka at 10.00… 

But if we’re honest, Hajduk has not seen a better chance to win the title since 2005. 

Excerpts are taken from Index.hr


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