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Croatia's World Cup success divides Balkan neighbours

AFP  |  Belgrade 

Croatia's neighbours in the former have largely praised the team's surprise success in reaching final in -- just don't expect the Serbian to support them, at least for now.

Every time a major tournament comes around, a familiar refrain is heard in the region: "If only was one country, imagine the amazing team we could have."

That nostalgic lament hides the fact that are doing just fine without Bosnian or Serb players -- and Yugoslavia, after all, never reached a final.

If one man embodies and the dream of a multi-cultural Yugoslavia, it is Ivica Osim, the team before the country violently broke apart.

He was in charge of a superb team at in that was knocked out at the quarter-final stage in a penalty shootout by Diego Maradona's

When Serb forces began bombing the city, Osim, barely holding back the tears, told Serb journalists that he hoped they would remember "that I come from Sarajevo".

Now 77, the Bosnian has watched and midfield maestro Luka Modric's run to Sunday's final against with huge admiration.

"They have managed to integrate their individual qualities into the collective" and never give up even when they are exhausted, he told newspaper, adding that "this is not a common trait with us".

- Plain jerseys -


In a region still scarred by the conflicts of the 1990s in which 130,000 people died, many people find it hard to throw their support behind despite a common language and culture.

That is especially the case in Serbia, whose team failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of

In early June, a mini-World Cup was organised for children attending schools in Each team wore the colours of one of the 32 qualified teams -- except the team representing Croatia.

To avoid offending any Serbian sensitivities, the children in that team had to wear blank white t-shirts.

Novak Djokovic is Serbia's best-known and an idol in his country, but when the 12-time winner voiced support for the Croatia World Cup team, he was condemned by Vladimir Djukanovic, a lawmaker from the ruling

"Only idiots can support Croatia. Aren't you ashamed Novak?" Djukanovic tweeted.

His argument was that Djokovic has wide support from Serbs in Krajina, a region of Croatia where Serbs were in the majority before they were driven out during the war.

Serbian made no secret of which team he backed in Croatia's World Cup quarter-final against host nation

"I supported Russia, that is my right. is a democratic society and everyone has the right to support whoever they want," Vucic said.

- 'Well done neighbours!' -


That opinion is by no means shared by everyone. Many Serbs have expressed admiration, and sometimes even outright joy, at Croatia's success.

"Congratulations with all my heart, bravo!", Miodrag, a resident of in told the website of Serbian state TV on Wednesday after the semi-final win over England.

"Our players and the (Serbian) federation could maybe ask the Croats to give us lessons," someone else commented.

Milojko Pantic, a well-known commentator when Yugoslavia was still a single country, said that Serbs with a sense of brotherliness had supported Croatia in the quarter-finals while those who wanted to see beat Croatia were "bigots and nationalists".

In Macedonia, most residents are supporting Croatia, despite the nationalist right's unswerving support for Russia.

"Congratulations Croatia. Politics, sport, the region and the world have all come together tonight," Macedonian Zaev tweeted along with a photo of himself and Croatian at a NATO summit.

"Politics aside, hats off to you, neighbours! You are the pride of the former Yugoslavia," said an unnamed on the website of the Vijesti newspaper. Around 6,000 Croats live in

Croats in Bosnia, where they make up 15 percent of the population, also supported the Croatia team, but Bosnian Kresic detected something deeper, saying the support "has unified the region and Bosnia for the first time since the bloody wars".

He saw it as part of a "gradual warming of relations" between Croats, Bosnians and Serbs.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, July 13 2018. 09:50 IST