Plea for calm as Balkans powdergkeg clash looms
With the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil looming, bitter Balkan rivals Croatia and Serbia will meet in a potentially explosive qualifier tomorrow in Scotland’s Group A. Having long battled problems with hooliganism and racism, both nations want the match to be trouble-free as much as they crave a win that would boost their pride and their chances of reaching next year’s tournament. It will be the first time the pair have locked horns as independent countries after the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
“I implore the Croatian fans to back us with their love for the national team and not hatred for our opponents,” Croatia coach Igor Stimac said ahead of the fixture which will be played under tight security in Dinamo Zagreb’s Maksimir stadium. “All those who turn up should support us in the most dignified manner and if they do, they will put the much-needed wind in our sails to get the result we want in this historic match.
“This is a great chance to show everyone, including Fifa and Uefa, what we are really like. Both teams have the capacity to keep this event a football match and show the world that they are great football nations.”
Stimac’s plea echoed assessments by his Serbian counterpart Sinisa Mihajlovic. Among other things, Mihaj-lovic instructed his players when he took over last May to applaud the national anthems of Serbia’s rivals in every match and said the games against Croatia, with the reverse fixture due in Belgrade on 6 September, would be no exception.
Both federations have agreed not to take away fans to either match.
Croatia and Serbia could not have made more contrasting starts to their qualifying campaigns. The Croatians top the group alongside Belgium on ten points from four games, with Serbia a distant third on four points from as many matches.
Winger Zoran Tosic admitted that even a draw, a creditable result away to Croatia under more favourable circumstances, would probably end Serbia’s hopes. “A share of the spoils would leave them firmly in the driving seat and hence we have to come out firing on all cylinders from the off no matter how raucous the atmosphere may be,” he said.
Concurring that Serbia, who have failed to score in any of their games apart from the 6-1 home rout of Wales, have acquired the reputation of a fair-weather team playing well when they are ahead, Tosic stressed: “While we would love to score first in order to gain the psychological edge, it is essential that we keep going for the full 90 minutes no matter what the score is.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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