The biggest match on Friday night in World Cup qualifying was undoubtedly Croatia’s 2-0 win over Serbia.
Sure, England may have hit 8, Portugal secured a crazy comeback in Israel, the likes of Robin van Persie, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were all on target, but nothing matched Croatia v Serbia for historical significance.
It was the first time ever Croatia have faced Serbia in international football and the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb was heavy with much wider significance than just football with historical, cultural and political ties fresh in the memory as well as, crucially, a recent war.
For an awesome run down of just what the World Cup qualifier between Croatia and Serbia meant – head to this When Saturday Comes forum post.
And intriguingly, the coaches, Igor Stimac (Croatia) and Sinisa Mihajlovic (Serbia) had a long and rocky history together.
Good friend of 101 Great Goals, James Montague, summed it up for the New York Times: “Before the match, the focus was also on the coaches: Croatia’s Igor Stimac and Serbia’s Sinisa Mihajlovic. Both were sent off during the last Yugoslav Cup final, played between their old sides, Hajduk Split and Red Star Belgrade, in 1991. The two exchanged words of such ferocity that they had not spoken for two decades. Mihajlovic, who grew up in the Croatian border town of Vukovar with a Croat mother and a Serb father, went on to become a symbol of Serbian nationalism. Stimac played much the same role for Croatia, helping lead the national team to third place at the World Cup in 1998. In December the two spoke for the first time since that match in 1991 to discuss the potentially explosive World Cup draw that had placed Croatia and Serbia in the same group. They agreed to bury the hatchet and lead by example.”
Mihajlovic and Stimac hugged before and after the game.
Surprisingly we could not locate any video of the two hugs nor a picture of the embrace at full time. Its fair to say that two of the most divisive figures in the Balkans set an incredible example to their respective countries.