Written by: Clemente Lisi
Article source: religionunplugged.com

The final whistle blew and the Croatian players couldn’t hold back their excitement. The 3-1 win at Hampden Park in Glasgow against Scotland recently put the Croatians through to the knockout stage at the European Championship.

Team captain Luka Modric, the team’s star midfield, scored the second-half goal that put his team through to the next round. He fell to his knees before rising to his feet and pumping his fists in jubilation.

Manager Zlatko Dalic walked onto the field, kissed the rosary he keeps in his pocket and joined Modric in celebration. Dalic exemplifies both the humility and piety with which this team has competed at the highest levels over the last few years. It’s through a combination of skill and the power of prayer, according to Dalic, that has propelled Croatia to such success.

“I’d like to thank God for the strength that we’ve had and that we managed to achieve what we wanted,” he told reporters during the post-game news conference. “I want to thank everyone who believed in us and supported us.”

This Croatia team first turned heads three years ago when they reached the World Cup final in Russia, only to lose to France in the final. It was a Cinderella run that didn’t have a fairy tale ending. Nonetheless, the majority Catholic nation of just 4 million people (and where 86 percent of the population are Roman Catholics) had been able to go further in the tournament than traditional soccer heavyweights Brazil, Argentina and Germany.

“Everything I have done in my life and in my professional career I owe to my faith, and I am grateful to my Lord,” Dalic told Croatian Catholic Radio in a 2018 interview prior to the start of the World Cup.

Dalic always carries a rosary with him on the sidelines, keeping it in his suit jacket just in case he needs some divine intervention.

“I always carry a rosary with me,” the 54-year-old Dalic explained, adding “when I feel that I am going through a difficult time I put my hand in my pocket, I cling to it and then everything is easier.”

Things certainly got easier starting in the 62nd minute against Scotland after Modric scored off a spectacular shot to put Croatia ahead 2-1. In need of a win, Ivan Perisic scored an insurance goal for Croatia 13 minutes from the end to advance and stay alive at the Euros.

This is a team that still carries the scars of the former Yugoslavia. Dalic was born in the city of Livno in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. A former player himself, Dalic was a decent midfielder during the 1980s and ‘90s. It was as Croatia coach, after he was appointed to the position in 2017, that his meteoric rise began.

Modric, meanwhile, was born in 1985 and was a teenager growing up in the war-torn town of Zadar, which is located on the Adriatic Sea. Modric’s grandfather Luka was executed by Serb forces in December 1991 near his home, which was later burned to the ground. He and his family became refugees and lived with his family in a hotel for seven years.

A civil war that lasted a decade, the former Yugoslavia disintegrated in what was the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II. Unresolved tensions between ethnic and religious minorities unleased genocide and destruction. Yugoslavia is now six separate nations – Croatia being one of them after they gained independence in 1995. Modric was just 10 years old at the time.

A talented attacking midfielder, Modric’s skills on the soccer field were a way out of a bad situation. In 2012 he signed with Spanish giants Real Madrid, one of the world’s best teams. In 2018, he beat out Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or, awarded annually to the world’s best soccer player.

Even though he’s 35, Modric is playing like he’s a decade younger. For him, it’s a last chance to lead Croatia to a title — and continues to serve as an inspiration to his teammates and countrymen.

Will Croatia keep on winning? Can they be crowned the best team in Europe on July 11, the day the championship game is contested at London’s famed Wembley Stadium?

“Let’s see,” Dalic said. “The dear Lord supports me through the hardest moments. He always does that for me.”

Never rule Croatia out. I know I’ll be watching.

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Date published: 09/07/2021
Feature image: Zlatko Dalić, Croatia national team head coach.  commons.wikimedia.org

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