Ready for the biggest football game since 1996? If not, here’s Jane Fryer’s guide to all you need to know about England’s Croatian opponents – from their machismo, fear of air-con, loathing of Starbucks to their well-honed WAGS…
Inexplicably, Croatians use the same word – ‘bog’ – for both hello and goodbye, and many words have no vowels at all.
With just 20 buildings, two streets and a population of 17, Hum, on the Istrian peninsula, is the world’s smallest town – although it still has a central square, post office, cemetery, souvenir shop, wine shop, museum and two temples.
It was Croatian criminologist and anthropologist Juan Vucetich who invented dactyloscopy, otherwise known as identification by fingerprints, in 1890.
Croatians invented the necktie and introduced it to Western Europe in the 17th century during the 30 Years’ War from 1618 to 1648, courtesy of the country’s nattily-dressed mercenaries.
Dubrovnik was the filming location for King’s Landing in Game Of Thrones. But things didn’t start smoothly. When executives at the TV network HBO demanded that the entire city was shut down for filming, they were told politely but firmly by appalled officials that it would not be possible.
Dubrovnik, pictured, was the filming location for King’s Landing in Game Of Thrones
Despite temperatures frequently topping 39C, Croatians hate air conditioning with a passion and will blame pretty much any ailment on its evils – from the common cold, to dizziness, back problems or migraines.
Croatians love coffee but only from independent shops (there are no Starbucks or Costa Coffees in Croatia) and only sitting down – they loathe the idea of takeaways and McDonald’s has been banned from the coastal paradise of Dubrovnik.
Cocktail with a bite…
As they cheer on their football team tonight, many Croatians will doubtless be powered on by the country’s potent national cocktail.
The Crocktail was created in 2012 by award-winning barman and mixologist, Marin Nekic.
Its principal intoxicating ingredient is Maraschino liqueur, a 32% alcohol Marasca cherry-flavoured spirit. The bitter mix is typically made up of sour cherry juice, fresh lemon juice and plenty of ice. Added to the concoction is arancini – candied orange peel from Dubrovnik – and wild cherries for decorative purposes.
But fans wanting to stick to the more traditional football fare of beer are well served, with a pint costing just £1.80.
However, Croatia’s national beer, Karlovacko, is only its second most popular. Ozujsko is the nation’s favourite beer, with ten bottles consumed every second.
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb boasts a collection of memorabilia left behind by former lovers, including locks of hair, favourite jumpers and even the odd corn plaster.
Croatia has the richest collection of remains of Neanderthal people in the world.
Pongo, Perdita and all the other 101 Dalmatians can trace their origins back to the country’s Dalmatia region.
The anti-Russian comment ‘Glory to Ukraine’ made by Croatian defender Domagoj Vida’s on social media following his team’s victory over Russia this week backfired badly after Russian fans pledged to support England tonight.
The country has a population of 4,154,200 (half that of London), 3,900 miles of coastline, more than 1,200 islands, eight national parks, eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, 13 mountain chains, as well as medieval towns, castles and fortresses galore. No wonder 765,000 Brits visited last year. Its average of 2,715 hours of sunshine a year beats the UK’s 1,633 hours.
Croatian men are massive – 5ft 11in on average (tipping 6ft 1in for those in the Dalmatian town of Drnis). Star midfielder Luka Modric, however, measures barely 5ft 5in in his football socks.
They’re a fiery lot – not for nothing is the nation called the ‘hard man of Europe’. Often seen shouting, swearing and waving their hands about – even when they’re discussing the usually perfect weather, fists can be ready to fly.
Croatia only became a country in 1991 after it declared independence from Yugoslavia
Croatia only became a country in 1991 after it declared independence from Yugoslavia – meaning 12 of the team’s squad were not officially born in ‘Croatia’.
During the brutal war in the Balkans that followed Yugoslavia’s break-up, Modric’s grandfather was shot dead by Serbian militants. Forced to flee their hometown of Modrici, his family became refugees.
Croatia became the 28th, and the newest, member of the European Union on July 1, 2013, but is not part of the border-free Schengen Area (so all travellers need to go through passport control on arrival) or the eurozone.
President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has enjoyed the World Cup as much as her country’s players. After her team beat Russia, she rushed into the changing rooms to join in the celebrations with the half-naked players (this is, don’t forget, the same 50-year-old blonde who openly flirted with President Trump during his recent visit to Poland, favours incredibly snug-fitting Croatia jerseys and is sometimes mistaken for a porn star).
Instead of the euro, the Croatians have the kuna, named after a ferret-like creature prized for its luxuriously soft fur that lives in the Croatian mountains.
President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, pictured, has enjoyed the World Cup as much as her country’s players
The fear of an Ottoman invasion might, finally, have eased up, but centuries on there’s little the Croatians like to do more in their spare time than burn effigies of Turks, perform the very lively anti-Turk Moreska sword dance (thankfully now without the ceremonial beheading of a live ox at the end), or take part in the frantic 14-mile Neretva narrow boat marathon. Bunches of flowers in Croatia must always have an odd number of blooms. Unless, that is, they’re destined for a grave, in which case they always have an even number.
Instead of the euro, the Croatians have the kuna, named after a ferret-like creature prized for its luxuriously soft fur that lives in the Croatian mountains
Traditional lore dictates that sitting on cement damages your kidneys, ice causes sore throats and that draughts are instant killers.
The world’s largest truffle – as big as a football, weighing 2lb 8oz and valued at about £4,500 – was found in Croatia in 1999 by Giancarlo Zigante and his dog, Diana.
Vegetarians are poorly serviced and vegans… well, put simply, Croatia is not the place for you.
National staples include brudet – a slow-cooked tomato-based fish casserole served with polenta; sarma – sauerkraut stuffed with mince and rice; and cvarci – fried pig’s fat. The real showstopper though is the janjeca glava, or whole lamb’s head. And provided you finish off the cheeks, tongues, brains and eyeballs, it’s an absolute snip at £1.
A quick one to try at home is the universally popular octopus salad, which couldn’t be easier. Simply combine chunks of succulent boiled octopus, chopped onion, parsley, olive oil and vinegar, and enjoy!
National staples include brudet, pictured – a slow-cooked tomato-based fish casserole served with polenta
WAGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
THE ROMANTIC WAG
Raquel Mauri met Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic in 2011 when he was playing for Sevilla FC and she was working as a waitress in a hotel bar. ‘Whenever I saw her, it was like a bomb went off inside me,’ he later admitted.
And so, despite speaking virtually no Spanish (and she no English) he ordered far more coffees than were good for him, asked her out at least 30 times until, finally, she agreed.
They married in 2013 and have two daughters, Althea and Adara, who frequently feature on Raquel’s very active social media accounts.
THE BUSINESS WAG
Izabel Andrijanic, wife of midfielder Mateo Kovacic, is not only impossibly pretty, almost inconceivably curvy and immaculately presented at all times, but, according to her LinkedIn profile, she also has a degree from the University of Economics in Zagreb and runs a booming baby-product business with her sister.
THE BRAINY WAG
Model Dina Dragija is going out with defender Tin Jedvaj, 22. She is stunningly beautiful, even if she could easily pass for 15 years old. But she’s not just a pretty face – she attended the High School of International Relations and Diplomacy, where she specialised in the foreign policy of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1956.
Model Dina Dragija is the brainy WAG going out with defender Tin Jedvaj, 22. She attended the High School of International Relations and Diplomacy, where she specialised in the foreign policy of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1956
THE TALENTED WAG
Franka Batelic, 26, who is dating the team’s captain Vedran Corluka, is a singer-songwriter who represented the country in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
She has been singing since she was just three and won the TV contest Showtime, Croatia’s answer to Pop Idol. She is also an LGBT rights activist, a vocal supporter of animal rights and is described by Corluka as his ‘better half’.
Team captain Corluka might have been as good as useless at Manchester City, but looks-wise he’s by far the best of this bunch – tall, (6ft 4in), dark, handsome and so swarthy he probably needs to shave four times a day
Let’s be clear, the Croatian players are not the best looking team in the tournament, but they are big, strong, brutal and will stop at nothing to get to the final.
Team captain Corluka might have been as good as useless at Manchester City, but looks-wise he’s by far the best of this bunch – tall, (6ft 4in), dark, handsome and so swarthy he probably needs to shave four times a day.
Meanwhile, if his football career doesn’t pan out, Duje Caleta-Car could surely make it as a Hollywood rom-com hero with his blue eyes, blonde hair, sulky pout and unnervingly symmetrical facial features.
AND IF YOU JUST CAN’T FACE IT…
Tune into the Wimbledon highlights, mow the lawn, put on a whites wash or watch Phil and Kirsty on Location, Location, Location on All 4.