Most of Croa­tia’s neigh­bours sup­port­ing France in World Cup fi­nal MIXED EMO­TIONS

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS - BEL­GRADE, SER­BIA (AP):

IN THE Balkans, foot­ball is so po­lit­i­cal that it has cre­ated bit­ter di­vi­sions about Croa­tia’s sur­pris­ing suc­cess at the World Cup.

The team will face France in the tour­na­ment fi­nal in Moscow to­mor­row, pro­vok­ing mixed reactions and strong emo­tions in the re­gion scarred by war.

From Mon­tene­gro and Ser­bia in the east and Slove­nia in the west, Croa­tia’s neigh­bours have been split over whether to sup­port Croa­tia or France, re­flect­ing the per­sist­ing rifts stem­ming from the 1990s con­flict.

While many in those na­tions have ex­pressed pride and joy that a Balkan coun­try has made it to the fi­nal, Croa­tia’s stel­lar achieve­ment also has caused envy and na­tion­al­ist out­bursts evok­ing the war era.

“The World Cup gen­er­ally is a joy­ful event, but we i n the Balkans some­how man­age to turn even ball-kick­ing into a clash,” said Draza Petro­vic, an editor at the lib­eral Danas daily in Ser­bia.

Petro­vic said that sports ri­valry was also strong among the Balkan na­tions even while they were all part of the former Yu­goslavia, when it was also rare to see Ser­bian or Croa­t­ian teams sup­port one an­other. But he added that the former fed­er­a­tion’s bloody break-up turned sports com­pet­i­tive­ness into some­thing more.

“The wars were not so long ago, so peo­ple view things not just as sports ,” he said of the con­flict that tore the former Yu­goslavia into pieces and in which more than 100,000 peo­ple were killed.

Nearly three decades af­ter the war, a num­ber of un­re­solved is­sues still plague re­la­tions among the former Yu­goslav republics, while na­tions stick to their own ver­sions of what hap­pened and who were the vic­tims.

Il­lus­trat­ing post-war ten­sions, Ser­bia Pres­i­dent Alek­san­dar Vu­cic said pub­licly that he would sup­port Slavic al­lies Rus­sia over Croa­tia i n the quar­ter-fi­nals, and the for­eign min­is­ter openly backed Eng­land in the semi-fi­nal.

Even Ser­bia’s most-adored sports­man, ten­nis star No­vak Djokovic, has faced crit­i­cism from a na­tion­al­ist law­maker af­ter openly sup­port­ing Croa­tia, while the is­sue trig­gered a heated for - anda­gainst de­bate on so­cial net­works and in the me­dia.

In Slove­nia, gen­er­ally a Croa­t­ian ally but with a loom­ing bor­der dis­pute, hun­dreds of sup­port­ers are ex­pected to travel to Croa­tia to join street view­ing of t he match. This prompted the Croa­t­ian rail­way com­pany to in­tro­duce more trains and ticket dis­counts.

AP

Croa­tia’s Josip Pi­varic cel­e­brates as his team ad­vances to the fi­nal of the FIFA World Cup af­ter a

2-1 semi-fi­nal win over Eng­land in the Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow on Wed­nes­day.

Croa­tia’s foot­ball fans cel­e­brate with a model of the World Cup tro­phy in Red Square as their team won the semi-fi­nal match against Eng­land dur­ing the 2018 World Cup at the Luzh­niki sta­dium in Moscow, Rus­sia, on Thurs­day.

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