Posted: 5/10/2017


                 Did you know that Croatia has quite a history?.  Home of the Dalmation dog, the necktie, the torpedo, the propelling pencil, the filament light bulb, Marco Polo, plus a long Adriatic shoreline, many islands, and 4.3 million friendly people and a capital of 800,000 Zagreb, with a terrific bus and tram network, squeaky clean streets and great inexpensive food and drink.

               The 16 team UEFA u17 tournament for players born 2000 and later is the first male tournament held here. All four groups are in Istria and the Zagreb area to the north, since the country stretches way south to Dubrovnik and the Montenegran border. The tournament is held annually. Last year in Azerbaijan, 2018 in England at St. Georges Park, and Loughborough and Warwick Universities, while the 2019 event will take place in the Republic of Ireland.  FIFA u17 World Cup is held every two years and will be in India, 6-28 October this year. All four quarter final winners plus one more will make up the 5 UEFA entrants.

              I had a small apartment near Ban Jelacic Square, the commercial heart since AD 1641 and the hub of the transport network. The small stadiums are mostly a tram and then a bus and a long walk away, but only 4 kruna, about 50 cents.  It may not be the end of the World, but perhaps you can see it from Lucko !!!. I had a 30 minute walk to a badly signposted stadium for Scotland v Hungary.  The Scots are coached by Scot Gemmill ex Nottingham Forest and 26 caps for his country. They had quailfied first from the preliminary group and then the elite group with 16 goals to 1 and a maximum 18 points. 

              The Scots took the lead through an easy tap in by Zak Rudden of Rangers FC,, but the Magyars equalized after 50 minutes through a rocket free kick from 25 metres out from Krisztofer Szereto of Stoke City. I was in the small press box and to my left about 80 Scottish fans with flags, tartan hats and kilts. Great support, except when decisions went against their boys. All received free tickets and were family members. HORRIBLE, vitriolic and disgusting language and Swedish referee Mohammed Al-Hakim was a particular target.  The UEFA VIP's must have heard the foul language. Try to get a ride back to town from one of the UEFA officials was a waste of time asking. You would think I had the plague for the way they responded.

                They only had to get one point in their third match v France to advance but in the 80th minute, with the score 1-1 the French scored a dramatic winner in Velika Gorica to advance along with Hungary. Scotland and The Faroe Islands go home early.

                The home team from Croatia were the first to be eliminated. After a narrow 1-0 defeat by Italy which I witnessed in Rijeka, the Turks beat them 4-1 and their only point was a 1 -1 tie with Spain in Kostrena. Spain and Turkey advance.

               A bit of a farce trying to locate England v Ukraine in Sesvete. Again a long tram then bus journey and 400 metres walk I arrived at a locked and empty stadium. At the same time the parents of one of the England players from Chelsea arrived after an expensive taxi ride. The driver looked at his newspaper which stated that the match would be at Velika Gorica 25 km away. I called the federation general secretary and checked. The newspaper was wrong. ANOTHER stadium 1.5km away in Sesvete was the correct location. I jumped in the taxi.

                It was worth the journey The Three young Lions were AWESOME once again. 4-0 over Ukraine and it could have been more...much more !  and England quailfied after only 2 matches and 6 points. I was grateful to hitch a taxi ride with Inge Sandberg, dad of the Norway captain Erik Tobias of Lillestrom SK and an old friend,  to Velika Gorica for Norway v Netherlands.

                The Oranje took the lead the lead through Zakaria Aboukhlal but Norway came back with two goals . The first from Jorgen Larsen of Sarsborg 08 after the keeper had brought down Erik Botheim but the Cyrpriot referee played the advantage, well done. Botheim from Rosenborg BK slid the ball to Halldor Stenevik of FK Bran to take the lead 2-1 in their first tournament at this u17 age. CRUEL  ENDING. two minutes into three minutes of added time and a VERY DUBIOUS penalty. Achraf El Bouchataoul of Feyenoord made it 2-2.  Colin Rosler son of Fleetwood Town manager and Erling Haaland son of former Leeds United defender Alf-inge Haaland are two of the squad.

               Dominik, the local u11 coach of HNK Gorica gave me a ride to downtown Zagreb when the UEFA delegation once again proved to be useless.