Croatia star Luka Modric has led his team to the finals of the 1998 World Cup against France. The game will be played on Sunday in Russia. Photo: Contributed

Okanagan Croatians brace for World Cup soccer drama

Croatia-France Cup final cause for celebration of Croatian heritage, pride

The performance of the Croatia World Cup squad is touching a nerve with ethnic Croatians now living in the Okanagan.

As Croatia prepares to play the World Cup soccer final on Sunday against France, members of the Okanagan Croatian Cultural Club from Penticton to Vernon are caught up in a global groundswell of pride for their heritage and their team’s undergo-like performance on the pitch.

Kate Sarac, the incoming president for the club, said with a population of only four million, the success of the team so far has unleashed a renewed sense of pride in their country, both back home and abroad.

“Soccer is a uniter. It is bringing us together,” Sarac said.

Croatians catching World Cup fever in Kelowna are Karla Gill and Maryann Gill. Photo: Contributed

“If they win, the players on the team will be a part of Croatian folklore for the rest of time. We will be the smallest country to ever win the World Cup since 1930. Our team has played amazing, faced some tough overtime games. It’s been a struggle but they have pulled through.

“They must be exhausted from having to work so hard to reach the final. It has just been incredible to watch.”

Led by the diminutive Luka Modric, a star with Real Madrid, and others such as Domagoj Vida, Ivan Rakitic and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, Sarac says this is the best team Croatia has fielded since the ‘98 squad that reached the World Cup semi-finals.

That year, it was France that eliminated Croatia 2-1 in the semi-final.

“It is so weird that 20 years later we are playing France again, ” Sarac said.

Sarac said she was living in Croatia back then, and was caught up in the excitement with all her native countrymen, a similar scene today she calls “just nutty.”

“In the town square in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, people are gathered to watch the games on the big projection screen along with live music, fireworks and people waving flags. We are not the richest country in the world but our country’s economy is expanding and we are culturally rich.”

Asked why soccer is such a unifying force around the world, Sarac said for Croatia it’s because everyone can play and identify with the sport like no other.

“Everyone can play. All you need is a ball and group of players and you have a team. Everyone knows the rules and how to play. In Croatia, kids play everywhere—on the street, grass fields and even gravel.”

As a young team, the national Croatia soccer squad is also emblematic of a regeneration of their country’s heritage among young people in the Okanagan and across Canada.

“When I started with the club two years ago we had 88 members on Facebook, and today that is now about 160. We are trying to get the younger generation more involved in our club,” she added.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@BarryGerding
barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

International students hit hard by B.C. tuition fee hikes

Campaign seeks regulatory controls be imposed on post-secondary institutions

Festival of Trees returns to West Kelowna’s Mission Hill Winery

The fundraiser for the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation will run Nov. 23 to Jan. 4

Proportional representation vote continues to draw low numbers

Only 6.5 per cent of eligible voters have cast ballots so far in B.C. referendum

Kelowna Skating Club skaters take home 10 medals and three provincial titles

Ava Sanderson was among the winners of the 2019 B.C and Yukon Sectional Championships

Kelowna to host World Junior pre-tournament game

Team Russia will take on Team Sweden at Prospera Place on Dec. 18

Your weekday weather update

Flurries and more rain anticipated for the Okanagan - Shuswap

Protesters confront Environment Minister in B.C.

Protesters wanting more for killer whales confront Catherine McKenna

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

Okanagan pickleball pair win bronze at nationals

Vernon and Kelowna players reach podium in California

B.C. firefighters rescue horse stuck in mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Couple allegedly caught staking out Okanagan home

The man and woman were seen in a black Suzuki Tracker with a white back

Most Read