Hajduk Split v Dinamo Zagreb

This was Hajduk’s second loss to Dinamo in just a few days and for some of those in attendance it was just too much to take.

The previous weekend saw Dinamo defeat Hajduk in a Croatian championship match. That loss realistically ending any slim chance the team from Split had of staying in the running for the Croatian title.

In both games Hajduk bombarded the Dinamo goal with effort but simply could not find any way through.

Both fixtures were overseen by referees who managed proceedings fairly and firmly to an extremely high standard.

The Croatian Football Federation chose to appoint the Bundesliga official Daniel Siebert to the league fixture. The following midweek a stylish referee from Serie A Snr. Fabio Maresca was flown in to control the highly charged cup semi-final.

Hajduk had no one to blame but themselves for falling short in both games.

The violent pitch invasion that occurred at the end of the cup semi final did not go down well with those watching either at home on TV or the club executives present inside the stadium.

Scenes of destruction followed the final whistle with numerous seats thrown and condemnation was quick justifiably so given the extreme scenes of destruction and violence. The morning after the tie the Croatian Football Federation announced that the Poljud Stadium would be closed indefinitely to hosting football matches.

No fixtures will be played in Split until the Croatian FA Disciplinary Committee has made a final decision on Hajduk’s punishment.

Politics plays a big role whenever Hajduk come up against Dinamo and this game is a meeting point for hardcore groups of supporters – the Blue Bad Boys and Torcida Split.

Tensions have been running particularly high in recent years, with the Hajduk faithful tired of lagging behind the club from the capital on and off the field.

Dinamo Zagreb’s footballing alumni includes the likes of Modric and more recently goalkeeper Dominik Livkovic but outside those two there is still seemingly an unending conveyor belt of talent coming through from the academy.

Sat in the shadow of Stadion Maksimir, the Dinamo academy sits in the northeastern area of Zagreb.

With a population of around 800,000, Zagreb is one of the biggest metropolitan areas in Eastern Europe offering a large number of candidates to Dinamo Zagreb yearly.

Thanks to investment from the national association Dinamo and the club staff have the ability to poach youngsters from other Croatian sides, often bringing them in at a young age for a nominal fee before developing the players in the first team and selling them on for huge profit. 

However, the same talent chain doesn’t seem to be coming out of Split.

Dinamo as a club received more than €25 million in transfer fees just for players only last summer a fact that hurts Split fans emotionally but the more pertinently the Split clubs rulers financially.

When all the player sales and the UEFA prize money is factored in Dinamo are miles ahead of their biggest rivals financially.

Serious money is invested back into the team to ensure a competitive team can play in UEFA European competition but where the money goes in terms of ground infrastructure is anyone’s guess.

There is not a single fit for purpose sizeable modern stadium in the whole of Croatia. The Poljud Stadium and Stadion Maksimir remain two of the most rundown stadia in the whole of the Balkans.

What stadia exists in Croatia (such as the modern 13,000 capacity Opus Arena in Osijek) are simply too small for the major matches of the Croatian national team; a nation that finished third at the last FIFA World Cup in Qatar and silver medalists in Russia 2018.

Asking Croatia to play home qualifiers or Nations League games in Osijek is a bit like Germany playing home qualifiers in Bochum.

Only one game has been played in Split since the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – the qualifier against Wales.

Indeed, the most critical qualifier for many years, the final Euro 2024 qualifier against Armenia, was played at the Maksimir in late 2023. This decision came despite it being clear that the Stadium Maksimir is a stadium way past its best – crumbling and near enough condemned a few years ago.

With a rich tradition of success in the competition the Hrvatski Nogometni Kup (Croatian football cup), means a lot to the club from Split.

For the last two years the trophy has been seen as a statement of ‘we are still here’ by the Adriatic club.

In the face of the all powerful Dinamo – and the new challenge from the upstarts from HNK Rijeka – successive domestic cup wins have been welcome even if the wins have not brought the serious financial benefits the club seeks.

The winning goal of this semi final came from a player who is likely to be the next high value export from Dinamo to western Europe.

Croatian media have already titled Sandro Kulenović as the ‘new Mandzukic’.

The tall athletic striker hit home after being the first to react after a save from the Hajduk goalkeeper and captain Kalinic.

Dinamo were extremely impressive not so much from the perspective of astute technical ability more physique, player stature and team cohesion in both attacking and defensive areas of the field.

Hajduk virtually bombarded the Dinamo goal in the second half just as they had done in the league encounter the previous Saturday. But Dinamo stood firm – an impressively strong defense that proved to be equally eye catching and threatening on the counter attack.

The final whistle brought brief moments of celebration for the Dinamo player in front of the travelling fans, before they then realized that the Hajduk hoards scurrying towards them had less than friendly intentions.

HNK Hajduk Split 0 – GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1

Croatian Cup, Semi Final 2024

Hrvatski Nogometni Kup

Referee: Fabio Maresca (Italy)