It was on the 4th July, 1998 with a 21.00 kick off at Stade de Gerland in Lyon and the quarter final of FIFA FRANCE '98. and new Croatia gave Germany their heaviest World Cup defeat in 40 years, since losing 6-3 to France in Sweden 1958.
An aging team under Berti Vogts with 12 players over 30 lost to Croatia 3-0 and were torn apart in the second half.. I was there and it was a sad evening for Die Mannschaft. The VATRENI ( Blazers or Fiery Ones) went on to lose to France 2-1 in the semi final in Paris despite taking the lead, but won 3rd place by a similar score over The Netherlands.
A year last May while covering the UEFA u17s Championships in Croatia I was picked up and driven to the Croatian Federation HQ in Zagreb and presented with a signed No 9 Davor Suker red and white check team jersey by the great man himself. Suker, the star and golden boot winner 20 years ago, is now President of the Federation. I promised that I would wear it with pride on the right occasion.
THAT RIGHT OCCASION came up last Sunday !!. At the last minute I flew from Leeds to Pula, that wonderful coastal town on the Ismian Peninsula of Croatia to watch the final. The fan zone was in the Roman Coliseum, called the Ampitheatre where they normally have concerts, gladiator fights, a film festival and more.. the 6th largest Roman arena in Europe, and 100 metres from the harbour. I joined the line for free entry at 2.00pm. The gates opened at 3.00pm and I baked like a lobster under the sun for 2 hours until kick off at 5.00pm along with 18,000 others. babies in pushcarts, grannnies, even little dogs. It was too much for many of us with no shade. I left just before the kick off to watch in an air condititioned bar on a cobbled downtown alley. MUCH BETTER. What a Final. I have watched them all either live or an TV since The Miracle of Bern, also on 4th July 1954 when Hungary went up 2-0 in Switzerland but West Germany fought back for a 3-2 victory.
In 2008 at EURO 2008 I watched the quarter final between Turkey and Croatia played in Vienna, high up in a similar location The Festung (fortress) of Kufstein on the River Inn at the Austrian/ Bavarian border. A ding dong battle finished up with the Croats winning on pks.
Has there been a better and more entertaining final EVER. outside my hotel room across the coast road from the sea I took a cold shower, then wrapped my head in a wet towel for hours, as young Croatian fans drove up and down singing, honking and waving flags atop cars of various vintage.until the early hours. Well worth the quick two day visit. I even volunteered to get bumped off my return flight, and caught a later one with the additional bonus of a free round trip ticket anywhere in Europe in the next twelve months on www.jet2.com.
Apologies for my lack of blogs in the last few weeks due to my awesome blog team having problems with www.ronsblog.com
More later on my FIFA World Cup 2018 experience from Red Square and more.