The kick. It all started with witTHE KICK and it was all about the kick. And everything that came afterwards is because of the kick. And it has nothing to do with football. And it has everything to do with football. It was, to put it simply, the kick that was heard around the world of football, breaking up local and national teams alike It was also the kick that was heard around the entire world, certainly in the Balkan region of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, breaking up a former giant and forming future independent republics.
Things were not quiet in Yugoslavia since President Tito died in 1980. National tensions between the republics that formed Yugoslavia were on the rise and it was simply a matter off time before all hell broke loose. Weeks before, Croatia held its first democratic elections in almost 50 years. Out was the communist party, in were nationalist parties favoring independence. The stage was set.
On May 13, 1990, Yugoslavia and Serbia powerhouse Red Star Belgrade came to Maksimir Stadium to face Dinamo Zagreb, accompanied by a few thousand fans. Everything exploded before kick-off, as the Serbs started throwing chairs at the Croats, dangerously closing the safe zone between the camps, armored with whatever they could find, including iron pipes and knifes. The local fans tried to break into the pitch in order to attack the Belgrade fans. Local police tried to halt them, but to no avail. The match was not even 10 minutes old when Dinamo captain Zvonimir Boban spotted a policeman allegedly trying to contain a Dinamo fan. Boban ran, jumped up and karate kicked the officer in the chest. The game, of course, was stopped.
In a sense, that kick was the end of Yugoslavia and the re-creation of Croatia. A year later, Croatia declared independence, resulting in the War of Independence that lasted four years amidst terrible war crimes and ended with an independent republic in 1995.
The kick was the day Croatia football was born.
Actually, the national team of Croatia – not as part of Yugoslavia – was formed a little earlier, playing its first game against the United States in 1990 and admitted as a member of FIFA in 1992, while the civil war was raging. It qualified for 1998 FIFA World Cup France and had a marvelous run, that ended in 3rd place. The team of Boban as captain, Slaven Bilic, Davor Suker, Igor Stimac, Dario Simic, Robert Prosinecki and Aljosa Asanovic, among others, captured the imagination of football fans around the world.
Croatia hasn't reached that plateau since, but the country is a fine producer of young talent, sending players to the finest teams in Europe. The likes of Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Ivan Perisic (Inter), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madid) and Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), among others, make sure Croatian football will continue to flourish.
As for Boban, other than becoming a national hero, he did all right on the pitch too, having won four Serie A and a Champions League titles with AC Milan.
Croatia all-time caps leader is Darijo Srna with 134 appearances. The all-time top goal scorer is Suker with 45 goals in 69 caps.
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