Bella Kantrida (HNK Rijeka)

There has been a football ground at the site of Kantrida since 1911 when HŠK Victoria played their first match there against HŠK Građanski Zagreb. The football field was laid out in the bottom of a former stone quarry on the banks of the Adriatic Sea, giving the Kantrida its iconic and distinctive cliff side location. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Rijeka became part of Italy while Sušak, then a separate town, where the Kantrida is situated, remained part of Yugoslavia. This meant HŠK Victoria could no longer use their own stadium and the Kantrida was occupied by Unione Sportiva Fiumana, a club competing in the Italian league system. Fiumana played at the stadium between 1926 and their dissolution in 1945. During their stay the Kantrida was renamed Stadio Comunale del Littorio, but was also called Borgomarina, the Italian name for the area of Sušak. Following World War II, Rijeka was returned to Yugoslavia and both Fiumana and Victoria were disbanded. A new town club, NK Kvarner were formed and in 1954 they changed their name to NK Rijeka.

Rijeka never won the Yugoslav League and indeed have never won the Croatian League since it’s inception in 1992. The club have been runners up on three occasions but just seem unable to break Dinamo Zagreb’s stranglehold on the domestic championship. Out of the 23 seasons of the Prva Liga, Dinamo have won sixteen of the championships (five as Croatia Zagreb) while Hajduk Split (six) and NK Zagreb account for the remaining seven successes. The Whites of Rijeka, however, have won the Croatian Cup three times and also took two successive Yugoslavian Cups in 1978 and 1979. To their credit Rijeka have qualified for the group stages of the Europa League for the last two seasons. Prior to this their greatest success in Europe was a Cup-Winners-Cup quarter final place against Juventus although they went out 2-0 on aggregate with goals coming from Juve legends Franco Causio and Roberto Bettega.

During the 1950’s the Kantrida underwent extensive renovation and had a new capacity of 25,000. However, UEFA safety standards saw this capacity slashed by half in recent years. This did not stop the May 1999 Prva Liga clash with NK Osijek attracting an all time record 25,000 spectators to the stadium. The Kantrida gained its unique double gantry floodlight pylons in 1975. The two pylons on the sea side of the ground were designed to replicate ships masts while the two on the top of the cliff are mounted at street level. For cars passing on the Istarstka Ulica it must be a truly bizarre spectacle.

Tonight’s match against Lokomotiva Zagreb is televised and feels like a really big deal. The crowd is excited from the start and the support from Rijeka’s ultras group Armada is boisterous and unrelenting. The ultras group were formed in 1987 and have their biggest rivalries with Tordica (Hajduk Split), Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo Zagreb) and Kohorta (Osijek). Armada’s murals around the Kantrida are really stunning. The match itself panned out to about one man, the Rijeka striker Andrej Kramarić. He scored five goals in a truly stellar display of the art of the centre forward play. His clinical finishing had the result of the match out of sight by half time, the pick of his strikes being a superb volley for his fourth goal.

Kramarić started his career at Dinamo Zagreb and scored in excess of 450 goals at youth level before turning professional. His career started well but he fell out of favour with manager Vahid Halilhodžić and was loaned to Lokomotiva for a season and half. His fall out with Dinamo turned into Rijeka’s advantage when he joined the Whites in August 2013. He currently has 21 goals this season and to put that in perspective the Prva Liga’s next highest scorer is Dinamo’s Duje Čop with nine! In 58 appearances for Rijeka he now has 54 goals. What is equally baffling is his haul of just three caps for Croatia, while seven of his Rijeka team mates were involved in Croatia’s international against Argentina at Upton Park, 23 year old Kramarić was left at home. He is definitely one to watch for the future. After Kramarić left the field to a standing ovation from the Rijeka fans his replacement Josip Ivančić scored the sixth goal of the night with his first touch. A truly impressive display from Rijeka and so fitting to see such a great home performance in this most wonderful of venues.

The last game to be played at the Kantrida in its present from is currently scheduled to be a Prva Liga game against Osijek on November 30th. This means there are just two games left at this amazing venue. From the resumption of the Croatian League season after its winter break Rijeka will play at a newly built temporary ground called the Rujevica Stadion. This will be a 6,000 all seated stadium on Ulica Hosti. The Rujevica will be home until the new Kantrida Stadion is completed which is scheduled to be June 2016. The new Kantrida will be a fully covered arena style stadium, its architect Gino Zavanella was one of the architects of the Juventus Arena. The new stadium will have seats for 14,438 people and will comply with UEFA’s category 4 status. The cost of the stadium has been privately funded and has a budget of €22 million.

Of course much of the natural beauty of the Kantrida will be lost with the redevelopment, beauty that saw Eurosport name the stadium as one of the Top 20 most beautiful sports venues in the world in April 2014. The need for the club to push on and try and challenge Dinamo’s domestic dominance is clear but what a cost they will have to bear to achieve this. I feel so eternally thankful to have been able to visit beautiful, beautiful Kantrida.

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Sunday November 9th 2014 – MaxTV Prva Liga

HNK Rijeka (3) 6 (Kramarić 21, 22, 38,49, 62, Ivančić 84)
Lokomotiva Zagreb (0) 0

Attendance: 6,000 (at Stadion Kantrida)

Rijeka:

25. Ivan Vargić, 8. Mato Jajalo, 10. Anas Sharbini ©, 11. Ivan Tomečak, 13. Marko Lešković, 15. Matej Mitrović, 16. Ivan Močinić, 20. Zoran Kvržić, 22. Marin Leovac, 88. Moisés Lima Magalhães, 91. Andrej Kramarić.

Subs: 32. Andrej Prskalo, 14. Goran Cvijanović (for 16, 74 mins), 19. Miral Samardžic, 28. Josip Ivančić (for 91, 84 mins), 29. Marko Vešović (for 20, 79 mins), 89. Vedran Jugović, 99. Ivan Krstanović.

Lokomotiva:

12.Simon Sluga, 3. Mario Musa ©, 5. Tomislav Mrčela, 6. Josip Ćalušić, 7. Damir Šovšić, 9. Ante Rukavina, 10. Domagoj Pavičić, 11. Karlo Bručić, 16. Jerko Leko, 19. Herdi Prenga, 21. Mirko Marić.

Subs: 1. Oliver Zelenika, 4. Jakov Biljan, 8. Luka Begonja (for 21, 28 mins), 13. Filip Mrzljak, 20. Petar Mišić (for 10, 65 mins), 22. Marko Kolar, 25. Jan Doležal (for 19, 81 mins).

Yellow Cards: Kvržić, Tomecak (Rijeka); Begonja (Lokomotiva).

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East is East (Slaven Koprivnica)

Koprivnica is a very pleasant town of 24,000 inhabitants in northern Croatia just a few miles from the border with Hungary and was always a border town linking the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires.

Senior football came to the town when the name of HŠK Slaven was adopted by the Freidrich family in August 1912 as direct replacement for NK Đački, a students’ team formed in 1907. Đački had an inauspicious start losing their first ever game 15-1 to HAŠK Zagreb. Despite winning the Croatian regional championship in 1920 HŠK Slaven, having been renamed HŠK Victorija, folded only six years later.

Reforming in 1930 the club has undergone numerous name changes including HŠK Koprivnica, HŠK Danica, RNHŠK Sloga, FD Slaven and SD Podravka. The club became NK Slaven Koprivnica in 1958 and the only chances since have been the addition of a sponsors name, this currently being Belupo, a local pharmaceutical company.

Since the break up of the Yugoslavian League system the top tiers of the resultant national leagues feature a few big names but also a number of relatively small clubs. It is still something of a surprise that this modest provincial club have been in the Croatian Prva Liga since 1997 having won the northern section of the regionalised second tier Druga Liga. Since their elevation to the top flight Slaven have been a predominantly mid table side although in 2007/08 achieved a runners-up spot in the Prva Liga, although they were actually 28 points behind perennial champions Dinamo Zagreb. The club were in the Europa League qualifiers as recently as 2012/13, defeating Portadown before bowing out to Athletic Bilbao.

Slaven play at the Gradski Stadion u Koprivnici which has one large stand, with 3,134 seats, built in 1997. For a Croatian under 21 match against Scotland in 2000 the centre of the rear section of seats was covered with a roof, this being extended to cover the rest of the top tier of seating as recently as 2011. The bottom tier remains open to the elements and the rest of the ground has no further spectator accommodation. The Gradski has only had floodlights since May 2007, erected in order to host Europa League matches. Slaven qualified for the Europa League having been runners up to Dinamo Zagreb in the two legged Croatian Cup final.

Last season Slaven finished next to bottom in the ten team Prva Liga, and only stayed up by virtue of a 4-3 aggregate play-off win over Cibalia. This season has also been a struggle for “The Farmaceuti” (The Pharmacists) and tonight’s game, covered live on television, sees the hosts in bottom spot with just ten points from the opening fourteen rounds of matches. It is interesting to note that on the bench for Slaven is 39 year old striker Davor Vugrinec, a career veteran with lengthy playing experience in Italy and Turkey.

Tonight’s guests are Radnički Nogometni Klub Split, the workers club from the southern city of Split. They themselves have a really interesting history having being founded by anarchists, playing under the name HRŠD Anarch and sporting an all black kit. Nowadays they sport all red attire and currently hold a mid table position in the Prva Liga. Tickets for this top flight match range between £1.50 and £2.

The first half of the match is very low on quality both teams content on passing the ball to each other and mainly heading backwards towards their own goal. The home crowd (officially quoted as 2,000 although in my eyes 500 was a more realistic figure) soon start venting their frustration, a grey haired man bedecked in Slaven attire, bellows gutturally between puffs of an omnipresent cigarette. The second half is marginally better and notably the home side try to go on the offensive. It was a lucky ricochet off a Split defender that led to the goal. Attacking left back Dario Melnjak seized the loose ball and scored with a shot into the corner of the net. It was a rare piece of quality in a dour match and saw Slaven move off the bottom of the table. Despite the low quality of the football it was nice to experience an everyday game in a little known province of Eastern Europe. I, for one, hope they manage to stay up this season.

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Friday November 7th 2014 – MaxTV Prva Liga

Slaven Belupo Koprivnica (0) 1 (Melnjak 56)
RNK Split (0) 0

Attendance: 2,000 (at Stadion Gradski)

Slaven:

1. Ivan Kardum, 3. Dario Melnjak, 4. Mato Grgić ©, 6. Ljuban Crepulja, 8. Daniel Cesarec, 9. Dominik Glavina, 10. Petar Brlek, 11. Goran Paracki, 14. Mateas Delić, 18. Ivan Fuštar, 23. Stjepan Geng.

Subs: 12. Dominik Picak, 7. Ivan Vasilj, 13. Petar Filipović (for 14,90 mins), 15. Davor Vugrinec (for 8,80 mins), 19. Marko Mirić (for 9,79 mins), 22. Enes Novinić, 26. Hrvoje Plazanić.

Split:

12. Danijel Zagorac ©, 3. Denis Glavina, 4. Ante Majstorović, 6. Tomislav Glumac, 14. Goran Roce, 17. Marko Rog, 24. Miloš Vidović, 25. Dario Rugašević, 26. Nino Galović, 29. Ivan Ibriks, 99. Sokol Cikalleshi.

Subs: 1. Tomislav Duka, 5. Branko Vrgoč, 13. Josip Uzelac, 16. Tomislav Radotić, 18. Luka Grubišić, 32. Marko Roglić, 35. Ivan Jukić (for 4,67 mins).

Yellow Cards: Melnjak, Glavina, Brlek, Paracki (all Slaven); Glavina, Majstorovic (both Split).

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Maximising Maksimir (Dinamo Zagreb)

Građanski Nogometni Klub Dinamo Zagreb were formed in June 1945 and have won the Croatian Prva Liga championship for the last nine consecutive seasons. Interestingly the club are a “corporate personhood” which means there are no shareholders and they are a not-for- profit organisation. The club have played at the legendary Maksimir Stadium since 1949 after the old stadium had been rebuilt. Dinamo’s first game at the Maksimir took place on November 19th 1949 against FK Partizan Beograd.

Originally opened in May 1912 the stadium is opposite the urban park of the same name. The Maksimir’s original tenants were a club called HAŠK. This club and their cross town rivals, HŠK Građanski Zagreb, were both disbanded by a decree issued by the communist authorities. The new Dinamo club initially took over Građanski’s Stadion Koturaška for three seasons before moving into the rebuilt Maksimir.

The Maksimir’s original orientation had a horseshoe shaped stand around three sides of the pitch and small grandstand on the north side. In May 1941 a fascist government representative from the Independent State of Croatia addressed a large gathering of students from Zagreb. He ordered that the Croats, Serbs and Jews should be segregated from each other. The students refused his orders and with in days enraged youths burnt the Maksimir to the ground. The incident was turned into a motion picture called “Operation Stadium”.

Croat architects Vladimir Turina and Franjo Neidhard were engaged to rebuild the whole venue again and provide a capacity of 60,000. Improvements continued periodically, the new north stand was opened in 1955 and six years later the east stand was built. In July 1973 a match against NK Osijek attracted an all time record gate to the Maksimir of 64,138.

In May 1990 Dinamo Zagreb hosted Red Star Belgrade in a Yugoslavian League match. The build up to the game was shrouded in ethnic tensions and some 3,000 Delije (Red Star’s ultras group), led by Željko Ražnatović (later known as the warlord “Arkan”), made the trip north from Belgrade. Dinamo’s ultra group the Bad Blue Boys were also out in force and began stoning the Delije. The Serbs retaliated with nationalist chants like “Zagreb is Serbian” and “We’ll kill Tuđman”. The pitch was engulfed with fighting supporters. Red Star’s players returned to the dressing rooms but Dinamo’s remained on the pitch. Dinamo’s star player and captain Zvonimir Boban kicked a police officer who was seen attacking an innocent Dinamo fan. The game is generally cited as one of the major flashpoints in the build up to the horrendous Balkan War and the break up of the old Yugoslavia.

The current stadium dates from 1997 and the old north stand was replaced by the present one a year later. In 2008 there was a competition held to find a design for a new national stadium in the Kajzerica area of the city. The plan was to demolish the old Maksimir Stadium and replace it with a state of the art home for the Croatian national team as well as Croatia’s biggest club. The contest was won by architect Hrvoje Njirić whose stunning “Blue Volcano” design was widely lauded. The problem for the new project was funding and in 2011 the municipality spent a fortune, which proved to be a considerable strain on public resources, on upgrading the Maksimir. Undersoil heating and irrigation systems were installed and all surfaces were painted blue. Every seat in the stadium was also replaced. The Blue Volcano project was officially shelved in October 2012 when even a referendum to decide on staying at the Maksimir or moving to Kajzerica could not be organised effectively.

While Dinamo continue to dominate the domestic scene they have struggled for success in Europe. In this season’s qualification for the Champions League Dinamo easily beat Žalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania but surprisingly lost 2-1 on aggregate to Denmark’s AaB Aalborg. This saw the Croatians shunted into the Europa League and a group consisting of Celtic, the Romanian club Astra Giurgiu and tonight’s opponents FC Red Bull Salzburg. Having lost their last group game 4-2 in Salzburg, Dinamo were keen to celebrate their 100th European match with a win in the Maksimir.

Despite their best laid plans Salzburg took the lead through the impressive Jonathan Soriano and when Kevin Kampl doubled the lead the hosts lack of adventure seemed to hold them back. Even though Henriquez immediately reduced Dinamo’s arrears it was not to be and the Austrian’s cruised to an easy win. Soriano would score a hat-trick of real quality although Salzburg’s fourth and fifth goals were borne out of some shambolic defending by Dinamo. Even though it was a historic occasion the ground was less than a third full and the ultras group Bad Blue Boys were few in number. There has been a dispute between the club’s hierarchy and the ultras since 2010 which has seen periodic boycotting of matches. Interestingly the BBB have their own megastore in a unit at the stadium.

An iconic name in European football the Maksimir deserves full houses and great European nights, something the current team is failing to provide.

dinamologo

Thursday November 6th 2014 – Europa League Group D

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (0) 1 (Henriquez 60)

FC Red Bull Salzburg (1) 5 (Soriano 40,64,85, Kampl 59, Bruno 72)

Attendance: 10,769 (at Stadion Maksimir)

Dinamo:

34. Eduardo Carvalho, 6. Ivo Pinto, 5. Jozo Šimunović, 87. Jérémy Taravel, 3. Luis Ibáñez, 16. Arijan Ademi, 77. Marcelo Brozović, 8. Domagoj Antolić ©, 2. El Arbi Soudani, 90. Duje Čop, 9. Ángelo Henriquez.

Subs: 1. Antonijo Ježina, 7. Franko Andrijašević (for 8, 69 mins), 11. Junior Fernandes (for 90, 61 mins), 19. Josip Pivarić, 22. Leonardo Sigali, 28. Wilson Eduardo, 55. Ognjen Vukojević.

Salzburg:

1. Péter Gulacsi, 4. Peter Ankersen, 5. André Ramalho, 36. Martin Hinteregger, 17. Andreas Ulmer, 44. Kevin Kampl, 13. Stefan Ilsanker, 8. Naby Keita, 24. Christoph Leitgeb, 26. Jonathan Soriano ©, 7. Marcel Sabitzer.

Subs: 33. Alexander Walke, 2. Benno Schmitz, 15. Franz Schiemer (for 36, 88 mins), 41. Konrad Laimer (for 8, 77 mins), 45. Duje Ćaleta-Car, 77. Massimo Bruno (for 7, 31 mins).

Yellow Cards: Pinto, Brozović, Ademi, Šimunović (all Dinamo); Ilsanker, Ulmer, Laimer (all Salzburg)

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