Croatia plots ‘football Brexit’ as England World Cup semi looms

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Croatia’s team players take part in a training session of Croatia’s national football team at the Luzhniki training field, in Moscow, on July 9, 2018 ahead of their Russia 2018 semi-final football match against England. / AFP PHOTO / Alexander NEMENOV

Excitement was building in Croatia on Wednesday ahead of the World Cup semi-final against England, with tens of thousands of fans expected to watch the match on public screens across the country.

The side led by Luka Modric, have been feted as national heroes for their run to the last four in Russia, matching the feat of their predecessors in 1998.

Popular song “Play my Croatia” is being played on radio stations and waiters, shop workers, TV presenters and nurses are dressed in red-and-white jerseys.

Some stores will close early to enable employees to watch the match, which starts at 1800 GMT, with various concerts, plays and cinema shows cancelled.

Six charter flights carrying more than 1,000 fans left the capital Zagreb for Moscow late Tuesday and Wednesday, national flag carrier Croatia Airlines said.

About 10,000 Croatia fans are expected among 80,000 people in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, including Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

“This is really a big day for Croatian sport and football, it is a success that we will remember for generations. We hope for a victory,” Plenkovic, dressed in a football jersey, told reporters before leaving for Moscow.

The largest fan zone is in Zagreb’s main square, where thousands are expected to watch the game on a giant screen.

“Once in a lifetime — Modric’s ‘Fiery Ones’ fight for World Cup final!” read the Sportske Novosti daily front page.

The influential Jutarnji List paper called for a “football Brexit”.

For the past few weeks Croatia has been living and breathing football.

Squares have been packed with red-and-white painted fans, stalls selling football jerseys and flares, and drivers blaring their horns in scenes reminiscent of 1998.

“We all temporarily forgot our problems, no one thinks about anything else,” Robert Halilovic, owner of cafe “Cup 98”, named after the 1998 tournament in France, told AFP.