It wasn’t the outcome they were looking for, but the cheers of fans gathered at the Croatian Cultural Centre hall on Gordon Head Road on Sunday were still aplenty despite Croatia’s 4-2 loss to France in the World Cup final.
It was standing room only in a sea of red and white checkered attire as Croatian fans across the region gathered in Gordon Head to watch their team – in the final for the first time in history – battle France for the title.
Roko Nikolic, a second-generation Croatian-Canadian and UVic student, said he’d been waiting to see Croatia reach this level of play his whole life.
“A lot of people were actually surprised with our performance from the beginning,” he said. “It’s become surreal. It hasn’t hit home for a lot of people, that we’re here, we’re in the final.”
Surrounded by his family, Nikolic said he’s been at the Croatian Cultural Centre for each game, cheering alongside fans of his team, and others. “What we’ve gained in having everybody come together and cheer together – it’s invaluable for the community.”
In the front row, neck craned at a screen projecting the match, Stephanie Kalabric sat with her three daughters and son, all soccer players themselves, wearing the same lucky jerseys they’ve sported for each game during World Cup action.
“We’ve already won,” she said. “We’ve come together as a community … not only Croatian people, but people all over Victoria who support us.”
Kalabric said her husband hasn’t washed his shirt since the World Cup started and Croatia started winning.
“We’re just a small little country, we only have 4.5 million people, and look how far we’ve come,” she said, adding a win would have been nice, but “second place is still amazing.”
Fans jammed the Croatian Cultural Centre hall in the Catholic Church St. Leopold Mandic on Wednesday as well to see their team defeat England 2-1 in extra time.
“I prayed when it was 1-1 that Croatia would win 2-1 in extra time,” said young Benjamin Matic, 10, was visiting from Vancouver.
Croatia scored the winning goal in the 109th minute by Mario Mandzukic. Until then, the Gordon Head crowd were in a panic.
“It was stressful, I almost had a heart attack,” said Niko Zeba. “Benjamin told me before the game, we would win 2-1.”