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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Dubai's France and Croatia fans prepare game plan for World Cup final

With the trophy within their sights, expats on both sides get ready for a tense match

Mehdi Popotte , far right, celebrates with his fellow French fans in Dubai. Courtesy: Mehdi Popette
Mehdi Popotte , far right, celebrates with his fellow French fans in Dubai. Courtesy: Mehdi Popette

World Cup mania is reaching fever pitch in Dubai’s Croatian and French communities as they make plans for Sunday’s much-anticipated final.

While some are heading to Moscow, others have plans to fly back home to savour the big match atmosphere with family and friends.

Bernard Frontero, director at the Alliance Francaise Dubai language school, has a business trip to attend in his home nation that just happens to coincide with the World Cup final.

“I fly into Paris at 6am on the morning of the 15th and I am going to watch the game with friends on the Champs-Elysees,” he said. “It is going to be even more special than the time we won it in 1998 because the French team now represents all the different cultures that make up the country. There is a feel-good factor about France, the country is changing with our new president and the football team is the perfect embodiment of that.”

Mr Frontero has enjoyed the experience of watching the tournament in Dubai as his home nation has made its way to the World Cup final.

“Dubai has been such a friendly place to watch the World Cup. I watched the games with friends in hotels here and the atmosphere could not have been better,” he said.

“There is an atmosphere of respect in Dubai, it exists in all places, but Dubai really embraces it. It was a fabulous experience to be able to watch the games with people from so many different cultures, especially with Emiratis and the English.”

Croatian colleagues from Dubai-based CTBA Construction pictured at the World Cup in Moscow. 
Croatian colleagues from Dubai-based CTBA Construction pictured at the World Cup in Moscow. 

He said the timing of the final is especially important to the French community in the UAE because this year marks the 35th anniversary of the opening of the French Cultural Centre in Dubai.

Also heading home to watch the final is Robert Breski, who is flying to Zagreb to catch the game with family and friends .

“I couldn’t miss the atmosphere back home with friends and family as this is the first time that Croatia has made the World Cup final, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mr Breski, who works in Dubai for Croatian company CTBA Construction, which employs 30 Croatians across the region.

“Some of my colleagues are in Moscow and were at the semi-final. They have not been answering their messages today, obviously they are recovering from celebrating the result.”

Frenchman Mehdi Popotte lives in Dubai but he too will be hopping on a plane to catch the game in his home nation.

“At first I wasn’t sure if we would make it or not because we looked a bit shaky in the group games, but once we beat Argentina, I promised myself that if we made it to the final then I will fly back to France for it,” he said.

“I wasn’t in France the last time we won it in 1998 and I really regretted it, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it this time.”

Croatian Marko Arambasic will not be heading home to watch the final but that will not stop him from enjoying every minute of Sunday’s game, even though he may not get complete support at home.

“My fiancee is half-French and she has been supporting Croatia and France in this World Cup,” he said.

“She does not have a French shirt though and I am certainly not going to be buying her one now.”

Mr Arambasic and his friends have been following the fortunes of Croatia at their favourite spot at Dubai’s Double Decker.

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“There were more than 200 Croatians there for the semi-final,” he said. “It was especially brilliant making the English DJ play Croatian songs to celebrate the win.”

It is fair to say that the Emirates’ hotels are on full standby for another busy night when the World Cup final takes place on Sunday.

But for Media One Hotel’s Caroline Rowe it is a case of what might have been.

“We are expecting several hundred to watch it with us, so it will still be a big turnout, but not as many as we had for the England games,” she said.

“Supporters of several countries have adopted us as their venue of choice and we have a huge English following. It did get a bit quiet towards the end of the night against Croatia though when we realised it wasn’t going to happen for us.”

Ms Rowe said that English fans took it in good spirit though and drowned their sorrows as the band played Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life at the end of the evening.

But it is not over for England fans, as she pointed out, with the third and fourth play-off against Belgium taking place on Saturday evening.

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