The last time Croatia played an international in London it was a truly memorable night (regardless of who you were rooting for) – there was a torrential downpour for much of the game; a wally with a brolly; a rude interpretation of the national anthem; and a highly surprising 3-2 victory for Croatia at Wembley against England, meaning Croatia topped their Euro 2008 qualifying group…and England finished third in the group, meaning they missed the tournament!
This time round, it was a much less dramatic affair, not least because it was a less pressurised match (a friendly) in a much more low-key setting (Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage – sorry if that offends any Fulham fans but really, wooden seats?) against weaker opposition (as the scoreline suggests).
The 2pm kick-off was certainly unusual for a Wednesday afternoon, but I assume this may have been scheduled in this way for television in South Korea, where it would have been 11pm. There must have only been a few thousand fans in the stadium, where only two stands were open – although different areas had been designated for South Korean and Croatian fans. In fact, I don’t believe there was any “neutral” seating, so I did hear a number of English voices (without any hint of an accent!) sitting in the Croatian side.
The South Korean fans – which, to me, seemed mainly to be young students (there must be plenty of them in London and I suppose who else would be free on a Wednesday afternoon?!) – had brought plenty of home-made banners and signs to wave about at their players. I’m sure I’m not the only one to remark on this – now or before – but the South Korean fans also tend to scream during the match in a very high-pitched fashion when their team advances forward or they do anything remotely exciting…it’s almost like they’re at a pop concert! It’s definitely unusual for a football match where you’re generally expecting to hear loud, manly chanting most of the time – but it’s actually rather endearing.
The Croatian fans brought their usual collection of red-and-white checkered clothing and memorabilia – hats, scarfs, baseball caps, waterpolo caps (really – hey, we’re Olympian champions!) as well as plenty of flags…and yes, they participated in loud, manly chanting.
The match itself turned into a rather one-sided affair after the initial stages, with Croatia largely coasting through much of it. Certainly the 4-0 scoreline – and being able to see the top stars – made it worth attending the game despite the freezing conditions (although nothing that a cup of Bovril didn’t fix). The match also marked the hundredth appearance for Croatia for a trio of their players – Darijo Srna, Josip Simunic and Stipe Pletikosa.
I wonder if some of the English fans were pleased to see Luka Modric on an English pitch again – the Tottenham fan I attended the game with didn’t seem so happy to see him again, it has to be said…
Scorers for Croatia were Mario Mandzukic (32 min); Darijo Srna (38 min); Everton’s Nikica Jelavic (58 min); and “home-boy” (i.e. Fulham player) Mladen Petric (85 min).
Take a look at some of our match photos below, or here’s a fre of “proper” match reports! Croatia outclass South Korea in London friendly (Reuters) and Jelavic gives Moyes food for thought as Croatia ease past South Korea (Daily Mail)