Photo by Ivo Cagalj/PIXSELL
December 3, 2023 – Hajduk is named the ‘Autumn HNL Champion’ for the first time in 19 years and their hunt for the 2023/24 Croatian League title fiercely continues.
Hajduk fans have many reasons to celebrate going into the winter break. The Split club trampled the fourth-placed, proverbially tough Gorica on Saturday night at Poljud with a convincing 3-0 victory. They now sit seven points ahead of Rijeka in the HNL standings, and 12 ahead of Dinamo, who still have to play their 17th round match on Monday.
However, no matter how the other results unfold in this and the next two rounds, one thing is certain: Hajduk will welcome Christmas and the New Year at the top of the HNL standings.
The last time Hajduk was at the top during this part of the year was the 2004/05 season. Then, Hajduk welcomed the 2005 New Year in first place and celebrated the Croatian League title at the end of the season.
Although the “autumn champion” title is essentially unofficial, it is still interesting to note that autumn champions usually win the Croatian League at the end of the season.
Apart from the inaugural HNL season that took place in one calendar year, there have been 31 past seasons and 31 autumn champions until Hajduk today. Of those 31, only four teams did not celebrate the title.
The last time it happened was in the 2000/01 season when Osijek played a standout autumn season but sold stars like Nenad Bjelica in the winter transfer window, which hurt their chances. In the end, Hajduk won the title. Before that, Hajduk overtook Zagreb in the 1993/94 season, and then Croatia in the following season. In the spring of 1998, Croatia skipped Hajduk and won the title, even though Hajduk was the autumn champion.
Hajduk now has two tough away games in Zagreb, against Lokomotiva and Dinamo, while Dinamo meets Slaven Belupo, Rudeš, and Hajduk. And as Rijeka will play Slaven Belupo and Rudeš before the winter break, Hajduk certainly has the toughest schedule before Christmas. The autumn part of the 2023/24 HNL season will end with the ‘eternal derby’ between Dinamo and Hajduk on December 17 at Maksimir.
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