Idemo Hrvatska! Or, Why Will Croatia Win World Cup This Year?

- What's the score? – the question issued from a big white nicotine cloud spread around my professor, as I entered his tiny office cluttered with books on the first floor of the Faculty of Philosophy.

It was a warm Zagreb June afternoon some years ago. I was standing at the door confused, with a pile of wrinkled papers held to my chest and a fluorescent marker in my hand, as ready as I could ever be for my exam on the theory of poetry.

- Excuse me? – I'm here for the exam – I almost whispered.

- Yes, yes, of course, but aren't you watching the game? – he replied nervously and gazed at his Nokia 3310.

- The game? – my mind was frenetically trying to seek the information about any kind of artistic game that might be of interest to this honoured poet and well-known theorist of poetry.

- Sit down, colleague – he said tiredly, so obviously disappointed in me.

- Don't you know that Croatia is playing at this moment?

- Well, since I#ve been up all night for the last two weeks drinking pots and pots of black coffee and trying to memorise types of lyrics in from renaissance poetry, I might not have realised that the World Cup is taking place! – I answered to him, in my mind, of course.

In actual life I just rolled my eyes, smiling flirtatiously – and replied:
- Yes, yes, of course – everybody knows THAT!

Looking back at it now, I'm quite positive those goals that Croatia scored were during the second half, which was at the same time as my exam declared my poetic destiny that day. I was doing quite well up to that, thank you for asking.

Right between the question of Petrarca's sonnet and the Croatian renaissance poets he got a text that cheered him up.

- Yesss!!! – he jumped from his chair with his arms spread. I almost thought that he would hug me, I was surprised that my knowledge had such an effect on him, when he said:

- We scored!!! – and reached for another cigarette.

- Would you like a cigarette?

But, sadly, ten seconds later, the Nokia 3310 buzzed again. Off-side.

I knew that things had taken a turn for the worse when he, with his arms shaking, lit another cigarette, while the old one was still burning in the ashtray, and said:

- We'll have to meet again in autumn.

That day I realised the true meaning of that famous Croatian sentence: Football, the most important secondary thing in the world.

Twenty years later, as the World Cup is just around the corner, Croats are hoping once again to be the champions of the world.

Honestly, why do Croats always have to be the champions? – my mother asked me this wise question after watching some big sporting event we got disappointed with.

Good question. Why is a tiny country of 4,5 million people always dreaming of being number one? Is it just a classic David and Goliath story? Or is there something else? The answer is pretty simple. We just got spoiled. I blame it on the glory football days of Ćiro Blažević and his team in 1998. The year that tiny little Croatia got to be the third best football team in the world. Ever since then, Croats are living a dream, that we can in fact beat Germany, Portugal and Brazil, not to mention France, and put our flag above all of them.

But, it's not just about football. We're spoiled in many ways, concerning sports. We just always expect the best of our boys and girls. Whether it's Goran Ivanišević winning at Wimbledon, or Janica Kostelić making her dream
ride with just one ski pole in her hand, or CroCop beating up half of the world, we expect a lot, and we don't settle with the second place.

If you happen to be a tourist in Croatia and come upon a massive party with fireworks, DJ-s and Thompson or Severina on stage, with some major jumping around, we're not crowning a king or declaring independence again or leaving the European Union, we're just welcoming our gold medal athletes. And we sure know how to throw a party. However, there's another side to that medal...

We can live with a silver medal, but God forbid that you should take the bronze or the scandalous fourth place! You can forget the welcoming party altogether, and instead, there will be just a few of your relatives waiting for you at your airport arrival. The mayor will be there of course, because he is apparently all over the place, and a few Japanese tourists taking a photo with you, and that's that. You should have just tried a bit harder, and got that gold.

We all know and teach our children that sport is not in fact, about winning. It's about a healthy way of living and of getting new experiences, about participating. It's important to participate. Excuse me? That kind of weakness and mediocracy is not valid in Croatia!

In Croatia, it's important - to win. To be number one. To see the flag on the highest position. To make the people at home hear Lijepa Naša one more time. To be welcomed like a king on Zagreb's main square. To get to the dramatic main square welcoming, however, you must go through a classic Croatian sporting drama...

You see, Croatia is the drama queen of each and every sporting event. It all starts with the group stages. If there is Portugal, Argentina and Germany in one group, you can be positive that Croatia will be there. Our victorious route usually looks somewhat like this: In the first game, carried by the wings of our fans we defeat Germany or Argentina by 3:0 at least. And the crowd goes wild. We're cancelling business meetings, Parliament sessions are being rescheduled, the mayor is putting in the first stone for the stadium and applying as candidates for the next World championship, and of course, proposing that Luka Modrić should get a street somewhere.

And there are only three colours you can see on the streets. There are red squares. And there are white squares. And the sky suddenly becomes orange, because Croatia - is on fire.

Nobody is working of course. We might have declared a national holiday. The old ladies on Dolac market are discussing whether or not that fourth goal was really off-side. And of, course, we are already sure that we WILL be the champions. We just have to defeat Iceland, walk our way through Hungary and Austria – and we are on the throne! Unfortunately, the Hungarians and Austrians also know how to play football and they beat us 1:0 in the last minutes of the crucial game – and our dream is over.

So, what can you expect from Croatia in Russia this year? Well, you can score as much as you want. You can even have the referees on your side. You can have Ronaldo or Messi, or the best statistics. But, there is one thing you cannot beat us at. It's not even that we have the best national strip out there, the largest flag on the stadium and the loudest fans under that flag. It's the simple fact that we will actually leave our heart on the field. No matter what.

Oh, yes, and the fact – that this year we will actually be - the champions of the world. Glory days... no, they didn't pass us by. And also, I heard that they are already preparing the welcoming party on the main square.