Croatia beats Serbia 2-0 in no ordinary game | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 23.03.2013
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Croatia beats Serbia 2-0 in no ordinary game

Among the most anticipated of Friday's World Cup qualifying matches was the clash between Croatia and Serbia in Zagreb. The home side prevailed in what was the first game between the bitter rivals.

On the field of Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium, Croatia make short work of Serbia on Friday evening, winning 2-0 on first half goals from two Bundesliga stars.

First, Bayern striker Mario Mandzukic took advantage of a wayward pass from Aleksandar Kolarov to put Croatia up 1-0 in the 23rd minute. Then in the 37th minute, Wolfsburg's Ivica Olic chested in the ball from close range after a cross into the six-yard box from Darijo Srna. Although Serbia played better in the second half, they were unable to reply.

In the weeks and days leading up to the match, much was made of the potential for violence between the two bitter rivals from the former Yugoslavia. Thankfully there was no major trouble, likely due to the fact that authorities in both countries agreed to keep visiting fans away from both Friday's match and the return match, to be played in Belgrade in September.

However many of the Croatian fans were unable to resist the urge to chant things like "Ubij, ubij Srbina" ("kill a Serb") during the encounter. The Maksimir stadium is, after all, where a game that served as a prelude to the Balkan wars was played.

Dinamo Zagreb's captain, Zvonimir Boban, attacks a police officer during soccer fan riots, prior to their match against Red Star Belgrade, Zagreb, Croatia, May. 13, 1990. (AP Photo)

Boban's famous kick

Dinamo Zagreb star Zvonimir Boban became even more of a hero to many Croatians than he already was when he kicked a policeman during a riot that broke out before the start of a Yugoslav league game in May 1990 against Red Star Belgrade.

When actual fighting erupted one year later, many of the hooligans from both teams were among the first to volunteer for their respective armies.

Among them was Zeljko Raznatovic, popularly known as Arcan, who organized the notorious "Tigers" Serbian paramilitary group. Fighters under his command would go on to commit various war crimes, including murder and rape. Many of the Dinamo ultras, the Bad Blue Boys were also enthusiastic soldiers in the ensuing conflict.

Prelude

More than 17 years have passed since the end of the war that led to Croatia's independence and the relationship between the two countries has begun to "normalize" in many areas. Economic relations are now regarded as good, and every year more Serbian tourists visit Croatia. But beneath the surface the emotions remain charged.

Former Croatian international Mario Stanic observed a giant shadow cast over both nations for at least a month before Friday's World Cup qualifier kicked off.

"These are the side effects of soccer. With this game a lot of people will be confronted with their undeniable past," said Stanic, who now works as a sports columnist.

Picture dated October 1995 taken in Prijedor, 50km from Banja Luka, of Zeljko Raznatovic, Arkan, saluting his troops. Indicted Serb warcrimes suspect Zeljko Raznatovic, has been killed in a shooting in Belgrade on Saturday, 15 January 1999, sources in a hospital emergency ward said today. Serb warlord Arkan was shot in the head in a shooting in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Belgrade. He later died in hospital. dpa

Zeljko Raznatovic went from football hooligan to Serb paramilitary leader

Such clashes were charged even during the years when Yugoslavia flourished as one country, only then it would be Dinamo facing Red Star or Partizan Belgrade, instead of Croatia against Serbia.

Serbian journalist Slavisa Veselinovic said such encounters reflected the political situation in the country as far back as the late 70s.

"It was always important to win these games - more for nationalistic than sporting reasons," he said. The victory of one side or the other gave the winners bragging rights until the next encounter.

Strictly speaking, Friday's match was not the first time the two national football teams have faced each other since the break up of the former Yugoslavia. Fourteen years ago, Yugoslavia, which by then was reduced to a federation of just Serbia and Montenegro, played Croatia to a 2-2 draw in Zagreb, qualifying for Euro 2000 - and eliminating Croatia.