Two million Croatians came together to watch the final.
Two million Croatians came together to watch the final.

How underdogs Croatia unified a country

FIFTY minutes after the final whistle not one Croatian fan had left their seats despite rain bucketing down.

An hour later over 500 fans were still in full voice in the bowels of Luzhniki Stadium, while over 10,000 more headed for Moscow's Red Square to party into the night.

Croatia may have lost the World Cup final 4-2 amid media backlash about the referee's decisions for France's first two goals, but the vocal minority among the 78,011 fans in attendance were proud of this fairytale that goes beyond sport.

The power of soccer was on show, with two million - half of Croatia's population - expected to pack major cities all around the country at 2pm Croatian time.

With their gutsy displays, sportsmanship, war-torn past and tiny population, Croatia got the backing of most neutrals among a global TV audience in excess of 1 billion.

Proud Sandi Marusic, who travelled from Zagreb along with his daughter, said this was the country's greatest advertisement.

"This is the best promotion of Croatia to the world. The last 20-plus years, this unity in all cities (is unseen),'' he said.

"I don't want to (blame the referee). France scored four goals, they deserved (to win).

"I truly believe that every Croat today is really proud of what we've done in the last month. We have only four million and we are in second place.

"In all Croatian cities, like Zagreb, Split, Osijek, Rijeka and others, more than two million will (today) celebrate our success.

"A big hello to be everyone in Melbourne, and be proud of your heritage and celebrate together with us (today)."

Among the thousands who travelled from Croatia were thousands more from Australia, USA, Canada, Germany.

Some from Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide booked on Friday and were out the same night.

"I text my mate Friday morning to wish him a safe trip to Croatia. Once he told me he was going to Russia and could get tickets, I searched flights and booked for a flight taking off three hours later,'' said Australian-Croatian Steve from Wheelers Hill.

"My wife said pack now, if you forget anything, buy it in Moscow. I had to go shopping when I arrived."

This has the ability to give hope to a nation for whom independence has been massively underwhelming, largely due to economics and high-level corruption.

"Do not be sad, this is a wonderful victory of work, unity, morals, brotherly love, faith, perseverance, excellence. Thank you for the best month of the last 20 years,'' said Australian-born Dennis Gudasic, who has lived in Croatia since 1991.

Among the "Aussies" in the crowd were Josip Simunic, who was capped 105 times by Croatia, Socceroos assistant coach Ante Milicic, ex-Olyroo Zeljko Susa and a host of adults and kids who are engaged in the game in Australia at various levels, mainly grassroots.

Additionally, thousands packed Croatian venues in Melbourne to watch the 1am kick-off, with tens of thousands of gathering across Australia - headlined by Sydney and Adelaide.

Globally, Croatia's fairytale run to the final will give hope to the underdogs - be it small populations (ie. Scotland, Uruguay, Costa Rica) or soccer battlers, primarily outside of Europe.

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