Croa­t­ian-Cana­di­ans look for­ward to World Cup fi­nal with pride

The Niagara Falls Review - - Sports - GABRIELE ROY

TORONTO — Cana­di­ans of Croa­t­ian de­scent are ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing the World Cup fi­nal that will see Croa­tia go up against France, say­ing the game will mark a mo­ment of im­mense pride for fans of the team.

The match on Sun­day will be the first time Croa­tia plays in the tour­na­ment’s fi­nal, and comes af­ter it beat out Eng­land ear­lier this week.

“Soc­cer for Croa­t­ians is like hockey for Cana­di­ans,” said Ivan Kulis, who works at the Toronto Croa­tia Academy and goes back to Croa­tia of­ten. “For a small coun­try like Croa­tia, with 4.2 mil­lion peo­ple, (the fi­nal) means much more than a soc­cer game.”

A win in the fi­nal would mark an im­mense vic­tory for the coun­try that broke away from Yu­goslavia to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state in 1991 — a year af­ter its na­tional soc­cer team started play­ing.

“I don’t think peo­ple re­al­ize that we did not even have a flag rec­og­nized be­fore and our na­tional an­them was not al­lowed, so hear­ing it and see­ing our flag ev­ery­where is huge for us,” said Erica Zlomis­lic, who works at the Croa­t­ian Her­itage As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Peo­ple around the world are wear­ing our colours and cheer­ing for our tiny na­tion,” the 47-year-old added. “I mean, we are proud al­ready be­cause no one thought we would make it this far.”

Croa­tia has met France at the World Cup be­fore — 20 years ago it lost to the Euro­pean soc­cer power in the semi­fi­nals, a game that many fans are well aware of.

“The only thing that stands in our way of achiev­ing the World Cup is France, again” said Ivan Skoko, 25, who was born in Canada but lived in Croa­tia in 2014. “But we have over­come so much ad­ver­sity in this World Cup that it would be dif­fi­cult to bet against Croa­tia.”

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Sta­tis­tics Canada cen­sus, around 5,000 peo­ple whose mother tongue is Croa­t­ian live in Toronto and just a lit­tle un­der 5,000 more live in Mis­sis­sauga. “A lot of peo­ple in the GTA will be cel­e­brat­ing in the park be­hind the Croa­t­ian Mar­tyrs church in Mis­sis­sauga and they will watch the game on a screen,” says Skoko. “I’ll be at the park for the party after­wards, for what­ever hap­pens.”

Croa­tia, fourth-small­est of the 32 World Cup teams ahead of Panama, Uruguay and Ice­land, has a chance to be the least-pop­u­lous na­tion to win since Uruguay took the ti­tle in 1950, when it was a na­tion of just over 2 mil­lion.

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