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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Idemo Hrvatska! Croatians in the UAE ready for World Cup clash with England

Croatia fans won't be hiding their colours on Wednesday night, and some are dropping everything to fly to Moscow ahead of the semi-final 

Marko Arambasic and fellow Croatia fans in the UAE say their team can make it to the World Cup final on July 15, 2018. Leslie Pableo for The National
Marko Arambasic and fellow Croatia fans in the UAE say their team can make it to the World Cup final on July 15, 2018. Leslie Pableo for The National

The UAE’s tiny population of Croatians will be cheering idemo Hrvatska! (that's "let's go Croatia") tomorrow night as they dream of reaching their first World Cup final – a semi-final clash against England is all that stands in the way.

There are thought to be at least 1,500 Croatians living in the Emirates, and 14,000 Croatian tourists visited in 2016. A figure that pales against the 125,000 Britons in the country, including many English.

Yet what the Croatian population lacks in size, it makes up for in passion and it has already made its mark on the country. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic spent three years coaching at Al Ain FC before taking up the national post. Al Ain’s current coach, Zoran Mamic, is also Croatian.

Tena Cale, marketing and sales officer at the UAE club, grew up a staunch Croatia fan and will be looking out for a few important Vatreni – as the side are known to their fans – players as they step out into the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow tomorrow.

With her cousin a former player for the national team, Ms Cale is no stranger to socialising with internationally known players such as Luka Modric and Vedran Corluka, whom she has known since she was 14.

“I’ve watched every minute of the World Cup, it’s been so exciting and I didn’t expect Croatia to do so well,” she said.

“Some of my friends at Al Ain FC said Croatia would win the World Cup after the first couple of games, but I said no way.

“That’s changed now. During penalties in the last match it was hard to stay calm, I was running around my apartment. Penalties are like roulette – I can’t go through that again.

“The players will be tired, but everyone is the same at this stage. Like England, whatever result we get now is a huge deal. It won’t be easy,” she said.

Marko Arambasic, 34, a community manager who has been in Dubai for five years, said the World Cup has brought Croatians in the emirate closer together.

“I think there are about a thousand of us in Dubai and some of us have been getting together for the games.”

Mr Arambasic has joined a Facebook group of fellow Croatian fans to help organise meet-ups.

“I think we are going to go big on Wednesday and go to Barasti. There were almost 80 of us out for the last game and we’re expecting even more.

“Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the penalty shoot-outs, but we know anything can happen now.”

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Nina Smolcic, a cabin crew member who lives in Abu Dhabi, will be watching with friends – none of them Croatian, but all supporting her side.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but based on the performances so far, I think the team has a strong chance of reaching the final and even to win the World Cup.”

Although she will not be able to travel home if they do make it to the grand finale, and will barely have a chance to get home and change before tomorrow’s match owing to work commitments, her family make sure she is not missing out on any of the excitement.

“My family is sweet enough to send me celebration videos from Zagreb after each game to make me feel closer to home,” she said.

The staff in the Dubai office of Croatian company CTBA Construction also won’t be hiding their colours for the semi-final. The company employs 30 Croatians, including Robert Breski.

“There is a feeling of euphoria right now in the office,” he said yesterday. “Some of my colleagues have gone over to Moscow for the game tomorrow night. Hopefully they will still be there celebrating the final on Sunday too.”

Mr Breski said the office is currently adorned with images of their favourite players.

“The team has been amazing so far, but England have a very good team too so it is going to be a close one.”

*Additional reporting by Patrick Ryan and Liz Cookman