ZAGREB, July 17, 2018 - We, Croats, we are not sane people. Just a few minutes after the biggest achievement in Croatian sports history, somebody sent me a photo with Pope John Paul, with the words: Don't worry, even he was SECOND...


Jokes, fun, joy, this is specific for us, insane people, when we lose the final of the World Cup. We appreciate all the effort of those who were out there beating Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland, Denmark, Russia, England, playing extra time, scoring and saving penalties and we celebrated, before and after every game they played in Russia.


A nation united We used it as a reason for our own intimate celebrations, at home, with friends, or in big squares with complete strangers. All night if we can. This, in total was six nights of celebration, and one grand, final 48 hours of celebration: that started after the final match, and led to waiting for the players to arrive on the main square in Zagreb. And we became more and more united, as a nation, from match to match. I have never seen Croatia so united, except during war, as I saw it in the past month, and I am not a young guy.


On the day of the final in Moscow, everyone was wearing something in checkered red and white, on T-shirts, scarves, painted on nails, or at least on socks. Even the tram drivers, and the old women in the city’s market stalls selling carrots or celery. This was a month of oblivion, but also a month of joy. Who cares about high gas prices, who cares about low salaries, who cares about the 50.000 Croats who left the country just in the past year, looking for jobs and better circumstances, who cares about an uncertain future. Who cares.


Golden Dalic We had our days of celebration, our days of joy. Zlatko Dalic, if he wanted to, could become our Prime Minister tomorrow. Or the President. Most Croats would sign and seal it. He was the one who created this atmosphere, he was the final touch of a great generation that brought an incredible result. The biggest result. Before his arrival, only six months ago, the majority of these same players were only pale shadows of those seen in Russia. Dalic created it. He can now choose to do whatever he wants. My biggest fear is that he will finish his career as the national team coach.


Croatia’s current Prime Minister publically announced his suggestion to all Croatian employers that Monday, the day after the final should be non-working day, because all of Croatia will be waiting to greet our Silver Boys! And most companies were indeed closed for the day, or open only until midday. Croatia’s President did not hold back in Moscow, hugging and kissing everybody during the medal ceremony and final celebrations in Moscow, which led to a sign appearing on Zagreb’s main square: “Kolinda, I want a hug, too!” The person who wrote it could even get that hug, I believe, in this kind of atmosphere in Croatia.


How? If you haven’t heard, there are four million people in Croatia. And we are second in the world. In football. And we have a strong handball team, which always medals at big competitions. And water polo, and rowing, and athletics, and shooting, and...almost every sport. As I told you, we are not sane people. Nobody can explain it. Genetics? Tradition? Spite? What it definitely isn’t is because of investments in sport. In Croatia you can't find a decent football stadium, just ruins that have been restored over and over again. Our State administration simply believes that sports does not need any money. And we are still on top, having won 10 Olympic medials in Rio! So, even in this kind of atmosphere, with so many people unemployed, so many leaving Croatia every day seeking jobs, we are happy. It is a miracle.


A lot of people from all over the world have sent me messages in the days before and after the final saying how proud and happy they were because of that small Croatia, my Croatia, playing in the World Cup final. Dozens of Croatian athletes from different sports are proud, happy, sending messages of support to Modric and the team.


Promises Croatia’s gymnastic world champion, Tin Srbic said: “I watched all the games, but when I saw Lovren crying, I understood him, and all of them. They were played for Croatia, for the people, not for the money and not for those who just want to take pictures with them. Nobody did a thing for gymnastics after my success last year, nobody thought to buy me a new uniform, and now the Prime Minister is promising a new stadium? I hope they will do it, but I don't believe it.”


And he would know. Last year the government made a promise to him that they would build a new gymnastic hall, they then took a selfie with him...and disappeared from his life. No gymnastics hall, no help, not even a jersey...


So, very soon, somewhere in the world, some Croat will rise up, and win a medal, and you will ask yourselves – how is that possible from the land with just 4 million inhabitants? And if you ask me, my answer will always be the same: We, Croats, are not normal people...


 By Jura Ozmec, AIPS Acting Secretary General, SPTV Croatia (Photo: Getty Images)