Sinisa Mihajlovic embodies the bonds broken by Balkan wars

March 24, 2013

Croatia fans
“The wind howls down a bleak street in Croatia’s Borovo Naselje, lashing the rain against the garage door that Sinisa Mihajlovic’s father had to replace every few weeks because of the force with which his son practised his free-kicks against it. It is not just the garage door that has been replaced. The whole house was destroyed during the Yugoslav war. Mihajlovic, wonderful and controversial footballer and now manager of Serbia, is defined by the war, adding another layer of complexity to the already incendiary meeting between Croatia and Serbia in World Cup qualifying on Friday night.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Croatia v Serbia: the sporting rivalry – in pictures
“Ahead of Friday night’s World Cup qualifier between neighbours and long-standing enemies, Croatia and Serbia, Alex Fenton-Thomas reviews some of their most hostile sporting encounters of the past two decades”

Croatia beat Serbia in bitter World Cup qualifier between Balkan foes
“Croatia beat Serbia 2-0 in a highly charged 2014 World Cup qualifier on Friday, the first match as independent states between the bitter Balkan foes since their war in the 1990s. Serbian players were greeted with nationalist chants – including ‘Kill, Kill the Serbs’ – from the packed Maksimir stadium, where thousands of riot policemen were deployed to prevent trouble from the home fans.” Guardian

Assassin. War Criminal. Football Club Owner.
“In 2006, FK Obilić Belgrade, the only team to have ever been crowned champions of Serbia that wasn’t Red Star or Partizan, were relegated from the Serbian top flight. Five more relegations over six seasons followed, meaning a team, who at the start of the 1998/99 season drew 1-1 with eventual finalists Bayern Munich in the Champions League qualifiers, kicked off this season playing seventh tier football. All this in a country whose top two divisions are the only two that aren’t regional.” Slavic Football Union

The Blood of the Impure

March 24, 2013

“The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is, if you think about it, a pretty nasty song. It dreams, in one of its more memorable verses, that the ‘blood of the impure’ will ‘irrigate our fields.’ It’s a rousing anthem, to be sure, and I myself can frequently be heard humming it to myself in advance of a match being played by Les Bleus, or as I ride my bike or do the dishes. I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to find a French person (at least if you hang out, as I do, with too many intellectuals), who can actually sing it without irony. And yet, over the past 26 years, the question of whether a particular subset of French men – those who play on the national football team – sing the Marseillaise under certain conditions has been a rather unhealthy obsession in France (we’ve blogged about it before, when Kinshasa-born flanker Yannick Nyanga sobbed uncontrollably during the anthem ahead of a rugby match vs Australia last year).” Soccer Politics (Video)

Valbuena has earned his chance with France

March 24, 2013

“France doesn’t share Argentina, Brazil or even Italy’s relentless obsession with the number 10, but having boasted the most celebrated creative midfielder of recent times, Zinedine Zidane, the number has since taken on extra importance. Since Zidane’s theatrical retirement in 2006, France’s No. 10s have hardly fit the mould. Sidney Govou, the speedy winger who never fulfilled his vast potential, wore it at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 while striker Karim Benzema inherited it for last summer’s European Championships. In all three tournaments, France disappointed: two group stage exits and a quarterfinal elimination. Perhaps they need a proper No. 10. And that’s where Mathieu Valbuena comes in.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Criciúma’s return to the big time revives memories of past glories

March 24, 2013

“Heading south from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and football hotbed it is a little over 500km before you reach the state of Santa Catarina. Bordering Argentina to the west and the Atlantic Ocean in the east it is one of the smallest in the country. Despite this it boasts a strong economy largely fuelled by tourism thanks to a few hundred kilometres of golden beaches and large areas of wildlife and even snow-capped peaks further inland. Santa Catarina proudly claims to have the highest standard of living in Brazil and possibly all of South America. However on the football pitch it lags well behind its larger neighbours in the heavily populated South East of the country.” World Soccer