In a historic match, Croatia's unfamiliar and surprising team overcame the traditional play and speed of England, shaking the Croatians and their descendants who gathered in Mooca, in the east of the city of São Paulo in Brazil. Shouting “Ajmo Hrvatska!” (Come on, Croatia!), dozens of fans dressed in checkered shirts and cheered for their team, thousands of miles from the Lujnik’s Olympic Stadium, in Moscow, Russia, where the 2018 World Cup games were held.
We watched the match that led Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final. And among the fans were fourth generation descendants from Croatia.
Seniors, adults and children didn’t hide their tension during the match – especially after surrendering a goal with less than five minutes to go in the first half. It wasn’t until the goal by Perišić, player for Inter Milan, that hope was restored for the Croatians. In overtime, the wait proved to be worth it when Mandžukić, of Juventus, finished off the Brits.
“I saw the athletes singing on TV, 'today is a party day' before they even start the game,” said Fanny Gavranic, 79, president of Society of Friends of Dalmatia (Sada), a Croatian cultural centre in the city of São Paulo. Some of the headline players were born in Dalmatia — such as Vida, Subosic, Modric, among others.
A Second Home in Brazil
“My father built Sada with 300 more colleagues. They collected money, bought the space and did it with their own hands,” says Fanny. Her father came to Brazil by ship after World War I (1914-1918).
Fanny was born in Brazil and spent much of her life in Sada. Founded in 1959, the cultural centre organizes events for the community and citizens in the area. The story of Fanny's parents is unique. They both lived in the town of Blato, or rather, on the same street on opposite sides of the Dalmatian region. They had never met; love was first seen inside the ship that brought them to Brazil.
“He came as an adventurer here,” Fanny says. Along with a friend who convinced Fanny’s father to get to know Brazil, her father liked the stability in the country. His job was hardwood flooring – the same ones that are in the main hall of Sada today, of which Fanny has been president of, for eight years.
Celebrating the World Cup Overseas
Francisco Marinovic, 85, talks about the unprecedented feeling of going to a final. “I did not know we were coming. It's a nice surprise.” Francisco is the son of Croatian parents who came to work on the coffee farms in São Paulo. Marinovic is a Corinthian (supporter of a Brazilian soccer team) and compared the Croatian victory with the Corinthian’s victory over Paulista: “Today we did the same as Corinthians. We celebrate screaming and jumping like crazy,” he says.
“We are a big family,” adds 29 year-old Boris Lukric, who is also a descendant of another Croatian settler in Brazil. For him, the Sada is part of important moments of its history. His one-year anniversary was celebrated in the same halls his parents had at their wedding party at, too.
“My cell phone does not stop vibrating. My friends in Croatia are sending messages to me celebrating,” says Boris. During the previous 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Boris housed a few fellow Croatians because their country made the debut game against the Brazilian team in São Paulo. They lost two to zero. But it brought the Croatian taste to the Lukric family.
After the semi-finals, different generations embraced and danced together. In Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, 100, 000 people took to the streets. Here, they managed to fill the Sada hall.
However, in the grand finale on Sunday, the fatigue of three over-time games proved to be detrimental to the Croatian team. They fought bravely, scoring twice. But they conceded and France became champions for the second time, after 20 years (1998 and 2018).