In these days Croatia is “burning”, the fire is in the hearts of the inhabitants of the Balkan country after the white-red team made it to the World Cup final for the first time ever. Fr Kresimir Zinic, coach of the national priests team of Croatia, said: “The generation of Luka Modric and of other youths is exceptional.” The final is an occasion to reunite the Country.” The coach-priest told the moving story of the Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, who wears a t-shirt with the photo of his friend Hrvoje Custic under his jersey, and plays for him too.
Fr Zinic, with which spirit did you follow the match against England?
In the first half I was very nervous. I didn’t expect the English goal to arrive so soon; then the real battle began, followed by great joy. There was an emotional wave, but Croatians played better football. We advanced to the semi-final after a set of extremely challenging and tiring marches, we defeated Denmark on penalties and then Russia. But our boys didn’t disappoint us.
On Sunday Croatia will be playing against France as in the 1998 World Cup. But this time it will be a final and not the semi-final as it was back then…
This time we will win. Things are different now. In 1988 the team of Zvonimir Boban played a great football – suffice it to mention Davor Suker – they made us dream. But the generation of Luka Modric, with Zlatko Dalic as their coach, is really outstanding.
In many cities the victory of the “Vatreni” (the nickname of Croatian footballers) was saluted with bell-tolls. The president of Croatian bishops, Msgr. Zelimir Puljic, addressed a message of encouragement to the players…
It reflects the wave of exceptional enthusiasm and joy that enraptured the whole country. It’s hard to put into words. We saw that our people are happy with very little. I find it very significant that Croatian coach Dalic said: “If God will, we shall win.” Many footballers said they believe that goodness and happiness come from the Lord and this is very important. They say ‘Thanks God”, and “With the help of God.”
In addition to its importance for sport, this victory could contribute to the Country’s reunification. Is the Country still suffering from open wounds from the past?
It is certainly a beautiful occasion to feeling proud of being Croatian, to feel united and realize that even if we are not a large Country, with many victories behind us, we can make it too.
Many of the players were born in the diaspora, in Bosnia-Herzegovina for example. The father of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is Serbian and his father-in-law Ante battered his daughter because she refused to marry a man of Serbian origin.
I think that Subasic’s parents are Christian Orthodox. After the quarter-finals against Denmark Danijel took off his jersey and beneath it he was wearing a t-shirt with the picture of footballer Hrvoje Custic who died after hitting his head during a match. Subasic broke out in tears for his friend who didn’t make it.
He plays also for Hrvoje. I think that Subasic, as perhaps also his parents, is Orthodox, while his friend Hrvoje was Catholic. It’s a beautiful lesson of friendship between Catholics and Orthodox
Many believe that only large Countries can win major championships, there are huge amounts of money involved, and that everything was planned ahead of time. What message would Croatia’s victory convey?
In fact it is no coincidence that Croatian supporters are found also beyond national borders. Many people root for Dalic’s footballers for their teamwork and the sense of community they created. Sport serves as a catalyst of the art of communion, as Pope Francis says. We have seen many major teams leave the World Cup. Now it’s the turn of smaller Countries.
What’s your forecast for the finals?
The Croatians will win. I celebrated a thanksgiving Mass for the victory against England and we continue praying.