The fixture between Russia and Croatia today will be a clash of two countries each locked in individual battles of asserting national identities.
Russians and Croats have been friendly nations since the Second World War and extends to this day – partly also due to their shared Slavic heritage.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was a matter of time before Yugoslavia disintegrated following the death of their iconic communist Josip Broz Tito.
His death marked the beginning of ethnic fragmentation leading to the break up of Yugoslavia into such countries as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Since then, there has been a process of assertion of identity and football heritage gleaned from then powerful greater Yugoslavia, provides the platform for which to say, ‘we are here’.
It is about Croatian nationalism that was repressed during the confederacy period.
Croatia President lady Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi? has been shuttling between her capital Zagreb and Russia (she will be in Sochi today) — a feat that is whipping up her nation’s togetherness and for all intents and purposes assert their identity.
After their penalty shootout win over Denmark, Grabar-Kitarovi? went into the dressing room to hug the players and coaches.
It is not any different with the Russians, whose President Vladimir Putin has spared most of his time staying close and making calls to the coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s men. There have been incredible feats of celebration, virtually by every Russian — journalists included, every time Russia has scored a goal at this World Cup.
Hugs and kisses here and there by fans in red, blue and white kit of the Russian football team.
Foreigners and TV personnel doing sign-offs have been caught up in this orgy — with some female presenters ruffled and their make up destroyed.
There is a surge in number of fans wearing T-shirts emblazoned CCCP, Russian abbreviation of Union of Soviet Social Republics (USSR) — remember the Russian alphabet?
In case you forgot; S is C in Cyrilic alphabet used in Russia and R is P. So, the closest English approach to CCCP is SSSR.
In 1988, when USSR reached the final of European championship against The Netherlands, they wore jerseys boldly emblazoned with CCCP.
With this run at 2018 World Cup, it appears the fans are willing to travel back in time with their team to fight for glory as envisioned in the Hammer and Sickle (a symbol of peaceful labour) in one of the Soviet flags. They are also hopeing for semis slot.
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