TCN’s Daniela Rogulj was live from Zagreb covering what was supposed to be a World Cup qualifier between Croatia and Kosovo at Maksimir.
Oh, where, oh where do I even begin?
I’ll start off by being brutally honest.
I’ve been struggling more often than not lately about how much support I want to give the national team given the ongoing politics of it all. I ultimately always end up pulling it together – being there for the players I’ve watched since I was young, long before I had my life in Croatia, is enough motivation.
Growing up in America, the Croatian national team was something I identified with. While I had Hajduk Split and I always will have Hajduk Split, I will always remember waking up at odd hours in California to watch Croatia in the World Cup, and the many heartbreaks and bad luck Croatia and their fans experienced when we didn’t advance in Euro.
One of the many beautiful things about living in Croatia now is that I can attend national team matches; something I didn’t have the privilege of doing growing up way out west. I can watch all of the players I follow in the prestigious European leagues they play in, all on a single pitch, and the best part? I can write about them and share my experiences with you. I guess it all works out in the end.
That said, I made the trip to Zagreb this weekend to watch the Croatian national team play in the European qualifier for World Cup 2018 against Kosovo. The game was to be held at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb on Saturday, September 2, 2017, at 20:45.
Croatia was the favorite to win this game, but knowing that Kosovo plays better in their away matches, no one would be taking this match too lightly. The Croatian team was also still suffering from injuries, and striker Nikola Kalinić would be sitting this one out. Given our luck with football, anything could happen.
And quite simply, anything did happen.
The weather in Zagreb today was far from summer weather. While the day started off a bit chillier that most, the rain that sprinkled in and out in the morning had us unconcerned about what would happen later. That was until the late afternoon hit.
While the rain was steady throughout the afternoon, heavy rain, thunder, and lightning began to hit just a few hours before kickoff. At this point, we were still unconvinced and certain that it would let up, wasn’t it still summer?
I got to Maksimir stadium around 19:15, allowing myself an hour and a half before kickoff to mingle in the fan zone. When I arrived, Croatian fans were dressed in ponchos and anything else they’d find useful in protecting them from getting wet. Maksimir stadium is completely in the open, after all.
While the fans were in good spirits and didn’t seem to care much about the now extreme weather happening outside of the protection of their tent, it was pushing 20:00, and it was time for me to head to the press area.
While I was dressed in a sweatshirt, lightweight jacket, and raincoat (excessive, I know, but blame California and Split), it was beginning to look as though this may not be enough. The rain was starting to become even heavier, and my shoes were now completely soaked by the already puddle-filled parking lot of the stadium. How would the fans make it through this?
I finally entered the stadium to find what I would call a disaster. Water gushed from the upper to lower stands, and brave fans were stuck in the open with no dry place to put their feet. We were about fifteen minutes until kickoff at this point, and the questions on everyone’s mind: “Would the game actually go on?”
Under thunder, lightning, and the looks of an entirely unplayable pitch, we got word that the match would indeed begin. Whether or not a full 90 minutes would be played was still certainly in question.
The whistle for kick off blew minutes later.
There is not much to say about the game, really, because the teams could only get through 27 minutes of it.
It was, without question, one of the ugliest football spectacles I’ve seen. Those 27 minutes played were not only extremely dangerous for the players, but you could almost hear the football managers of Real Madrid and Barcelona tapping their feet anxiously in the corner. The pitch was unbearable, the ball a dead weight, and unless it was chipped, it wasn’t going anywhere. Who let the game begin? Would the weather have devastated another Croatian pitch so badly? Who’s to say.
While the referee called for a 10-minute break after the game was stopped to see if the weather would indeed improve, there was no hope in the end, and Croatia and Kosovo will have to face each other at a later date. When that is, we aren’t sure yet.
HNS has announced that all fans will be receiving a refund for the match, and details of the refund process will be announced later. Let’s hope the fans are at home, dry, and won’t be waking up with a cold tomorrow.
While I have no photos to share with you from a rain-soaked Maksimir (the weather destroyed my phone, as well), I was able to snag my father’s phone before the press mix zone with the players to sneak a few photos.
As expected, most of the players didn’t want to talk, but I was able to grab Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, and Mateo Kovačić for a selfie.
Croatia will play Turkey for their next World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, September 6, 2017, in Eskişehir.