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Croatia’s EURO 2016 exit a heartbreaking lesson for all

Football, as in life, is rarely fair. There’s a cold reality at play here: of the 16 teams who made the EURO 2016 knockout stages, 15 of them will go home having suffered defeat. And you can bet a good quarter of them will feel a sense of injustice at one thing or another.

Croatia

Source: Getty Images



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I’m not downplaying how they must be feeling, but it’s just a right of passage - especially if you’re an England fan. 

However, I’m heartbroken for Croatia right now. I can’t think of a side that’s brought more to these European Championships.

I’ve enjoyed watching them so much that I haven’t missed any of their games. And why would anyone?

They played with a style befitting the host nation, whose language provides the best description of Croatia’s style: Joie de vivre.

I know full well that their final match, against Portugal, wasn’t the best to watch for the neutral.

They were still the better team, however, and never ceded in their mission to play the game with panache.

Honestly, they just ran out of gas. Physically, mentally, emotionally - they were spent. But what a ride it was.

And for the thousands of Croatian-Australians, many of who I’ve had the privileged to meet through football, I know you rode every single pass and tackle, right to the moment Ricardo Quaresma found himself in front of an empty net, 117 minutes into the match.



So they lost, yet I hope we can still celebrate the Vatreni.

Luka Modric’s standing went up even more, if it were at all possible. He is the size of a twig, and the kind of player who I doubt (sadly) would even be playing if he grew up in Australia. 

But his feet are so exquisite that everything he does seems wrapped in a soft silk.

It is a rare and magical talent, and in this era of pressing and hassling, he stands out even more. Don't forget thatgoal against Turkey, either. Worthy of three points in any fixture, anywhere, any time. 

Ivan Perisic was truly outstanding, providing an energy and determination I won’t forget in a hurry. He wore his heart on his sleeve and his colours in his hair - literally. 

Vedran Corluka, the professional’s professional, did what he had done in every single one of his 92 international caps. His comments about a "weak" Portugal were simply borne of frustration.

 

And Darijo Srna’s tears for his father, who died after Croatia’s first match, were so moving.

Srna himself is an extraordinary story. 34 years-old, even derided by critics within his own nation for being too old, but digging deep in every game with every fibre of his being.  

He is the glue not only of his country but his club, Shakhtar Donetsk, who he has remained unwaveringly loyal to, despite their move to Lviv.

Srna hasn’t set foot in his Donetsk apartment since the war (the second one he’s had to live through) broke out, yet he's never looked to leave. 

It’s been made all the more remarkable by the fact that behind the scenes, the national association is battling their fans, who have lost all faith in the Croatian Football Federation’s (HNS) ability to govern the sport.

Unfortunately, the national team was dragged into the dispute late in the game against the Czech Republic, when their fans threw flares onto the field late in the game, and then proceeded to fight among themselves. 

As much as we want politics to stay out of football, the HNS still has plenty to answer for, as covered recently by Ante Jukic.

 

Still, that the team played so well in spite of such troubles just goes to show how good they were, and, perhaps, just how far they could have gone. 

But football, as in life, is only ever fair to the winner.


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4 min read
Published 27 June 2016 at 9:24am
By Sebastian Hassett