Croatia; The Little Country Who Could
Sorry for breaking with the usual content and diverting you to a topic that is likely to be somewhat long and rambling, but I really can't help myself and had to share my overwhelming excitement with you all. You'll forgive me right? I've been following the FIFA World Cup, you see. Actually, I've been following Croatia during their World Cup performance. I've never cared about a soccer team or match before so it's no wonder that I've had a lot of friends and family members say, "I didn't know that you liked soccer?" The truth is, I'm not entirely sure I like soccer either, but what I can tell you is that I LOVE Croatia. And I think that having a team or cause to root for is what makes all the difference.
Most probably think that my love affair with this gorgeous country began back in 2010, when I spent a weekend in Dubrovnik while visiting my parents. In actuality, I've loved this little corner of the world for much longer than that. I was first introduced to the former Yugoslavia, by none other than Vlade Divac, Number Twenty-One, on the Sacramento Kings team of the early 2000's. Vlade was quick to become my favorite basketball player of all time and it was hearing his backstory that first piqued my curiosity about the Balkans and the recent war that they had been through. Yes, I realize that Vlade is a Serbian national and that the history of these nations is very complicated, but there was a time when all of these countries were one. I have been faithfully cheering for them since Yugoslavia won the FIBA Basketball World Cup back in 2002, when the team was comprised of Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian players.
Fast forward to 2009, when my dad took a job working in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and my parents spent several years living in the beautiful city of Sarajevo. I finally had an opportunity to visit the part of the world that I had only ever read about in archived newspaper stories. I was told things like "Why would you want to go there? Aren't you scared? Who goes to Bosnia/Croatia?" What I can tell you is that the little countries that once comprised Yugoslavia have more to offer than you can ever imagine. If you've never been, you are seriously missing out. The places I have seen and the people I have met during my travels have only deepened my love for that region. I am proud to say that I have friends that are Serbian, Croat, and Bosniak and they are all beautiful loving people.
Croatia is at the top of the list for countries that I would consider living in if I were to ever move abroad (followed by a close tie between Poland and Slovenia). In fact, I would move there yesterday if the opportunity ever presented itself. Croatia is always the country that I come back to, even after three prior visits. I never seem to have my fill and I'm always on the verge of tears when its time for me to depart. I've never felt more welcome in a foreign country, as though I was a long lost relative. There's something about this part of the world that feels like coming home. England and Germany may be the lands of my forefathers, but Croatia is in my soul.
The Croatian soccer team has represented their country well. They came into the tournament as an underdog and have remained so despite their best efforts. They have traveled further and played more minutes than any other team, and they have more players to score goals than any other. Luka Modric, arguably their best player and team captain, is a quiet and unassuming force that has unified a team and a country. His skill and humility are quickly apparent to anyone that watches. They are certainly the team that has shown the most heart in this tournament. They've given everything they have and held nothing back. How can anyone not root for them?
My emotions are running quite high as I look on to the final on Sunday, so thanks for letting me share my affections for this team and their country. I'm so happy for this little country and I will cheer her on and advocate for her win, lose, or draw; soccer, just happens to be the avenue at the moment.