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Croatia and Australia: A Unique Footballing Rivalry

Hugging the Mediterranean coast, Croatia, the country that brought you the cool manager, King’s Landing and the Dalmatian, has a rich football history given its relatively short lifespan as an independent country. Just before independence was gained from Yugoslavia, Croatia formed its national team in 1991 and gained FIFA membership in 1993, slotting in at a pitiful 125th in the world. Five years later however, Croatia was sitting pretty as the third best team in the world and have enjoyed great success over the last 14 years. 

10,000 miles away, on Australia’s south western tip lies the state of Victoria. Australia, a country dealing in arrogance, sporting achievement and always a good laugh, has for some time been known as one of the big football powerhouses in the East. Despite the stereotypical view of a lack of footballing prowess in Oceania and Asia, Australia have been able to hold their heads high. Including Brazil 2014, it will be the Socceroos' 3
rd consecutive world cup. With the constant development of football in Asia, the Aussies can only get better, and with that, their heads larger!

Victoria and Croatia, two incredibly different areas of the world, separated by a profound distance geographically but historically, the two share a very special bond that goes back over 160 years. The discovery of gold in Australia’s garden state in 1850 was kept a secret until a year later when the revelation of that the ground was golden was eventually disclosed. During the ensuing decade, the population of Australia tripled. This population boom was due to a huge surge in immigration and one nationality in particular stood out.

Australian Gold Rush

As the gold rushed out, the Croats rushed in. First as part of the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria-Hungary then much later, as part of Yugoslavia, Croatian nationals originally weren’t recorded as their separate demonym but rather as members of those said nations. In the present day, a Croatian population exists in every state of Australia; however, the majority remain in Victoria with the second largest group residing in neighbouring New South Wales.  Since Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, embassies and consulates have been set up in major cities around Australia, from Perth in the west, to Sydney in the east.

Melbourne Knights Logo
Melbourne Knights (Croatia)
 A strong passion for football lies at the core of many Croatian Australians. Many football clubs were established across the country with Melbourne Croatia and Sydney Croatia being two of the most successful. These clubs provided a hotbed for many talented football players, many of who play professionally in Australia, Asia and Europe. Internationally, Croatian Australians have represented both nations and at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a staggering ten representatives were present. Seven donned the green and gold of Australia whilst the remaining three sported the famous chequered red and white of Croatia. 

During the 2006 World Cup, Croatia the Socceroos were drawn together in Group F alongside stalwarts Brazil and the resolute but underwhelming, Japan. In a moment of history, the two countries lined up against each other in Stuttgart and it fell to an Englishman to oversee proceedings. However, little did Graham Poll know that years of history were about to stand up and bite him on the arse.

3 yellows make
Josip Šimunić, an Australian born, Croatian centre back picked up a booking in the 61st minute of the game for a soft foul on the mercurial Harry Kewell, on the edge of his area. Name and number (3), in the pad, Poll continued the game but just under half an hour later, Šimunić was in trouble again, receiving a second yellow. Incredulity spread like wildfire, from the commentary box to players. Where was the red card? Play continued and at the conclusion of the game, three minutes later, Šimunić picked up his third yellow card after remonstrating with Poll and finally the red was awarded.  Inevitably, this was Poll’s final game at the 2006 World Cup and any World Cup since.

With the football world not knowing whether to laugh or stare open mouthed at the television, what justification could poor old Graham give to aid his mistake? Well, there is not one really. Despite this, Poll has stated that upon the second booking, Šimunić was erroneously recorded as an Australian number 3 due to his Australian accent. Poor Graham, if only he’d been somehow able to read this before the game.
Kewell's decisive equalizer
The scale of the Croatian Australian population’s participation in the recent development of the Socceroos cannot be ignored. Now I could challenge you to name five and you might think; “hold on, Dan. Nobody knows this sort of stuff”. You would be wrong of course and as quick as it takes you to turn over from women’s football after England's swift exit, I present you:

The Manchester United mistake, Mark Bosnich. Tony Popovic who’s had spells at Crystal Palace, in Qatar, Japan and Australia. Mark “Big Dukes” Viduka of Celtic, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle fame. Josip Skoko who spend 3 years in the Premier Legue with Wigan and Stoke. Finally, Jason Čulina who prostituted himself (not literally) around Holland with stints at Ajax, De Graafschap, Twente and PSV.

So there you have it. Five “notable” players (I used Wikipedia for all but Bosnich and Big Dukes). 

Nonetheless, is there any other population of people of such diverse history sharing in such a defining and brilliant moment in football history? Maybe you can, but at least you have learnt something you probably did not know before and it's safe to say, Graham Poll definitely did not either!


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