ZAGREB, Croatia, Jul 14 – On the eve of Croatia’s first-ever appearance in a World Cup final, excited fans have been warming up for the match against France by visiting a Zagreb museum showcasing the country’s football history.
The snug museum, no further than a Domagoj Vida long throw from the Croatian capital’s main square, is proving a particular draw for those too young to recall the famed 1998 team, who reached the semi-finals.
“I was only four years old then,” Teo Zizanovic, a student from Zagreb donning a red-and-white chequerboard-design Croatia jersey, told AFP at the museum.
“This place gives me a sense of the past. I thought I’d pop in before the final.
“In 1998 we were kids. We don’t remember that golden generation and have been waiting for similar memories our whole life. Now they are happening, it’s amazing.”
Called “Budi Ponosan” (“Be Proud” in Croatian), the museum guides visitors through famous matches and football milestones with the help of displays, video clips and radio commentaries.
Among a range of exhibits it boasts the ball and football boots worn in a match Croatia played as a World War II-era independent state.
Another cabinet displays the original kits from teams during the nation’s tumultuous history, from its period as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, through World War II, to Yugoslavia and now modern-day independent Croatia.
Original trophies from two little-known friendly tournaments won by Croatia are also on display: the Hassan II Cup (hosted by Morocco) and the Korea Cup.
“There’s definitely room in this museum for one more trophy, the World Cup,” said Zizanovic with a smile.
“For a small country to reach the final is something amazing, but also for a country as young as ours, as this museum shows,” he said.
With World Cup excitement gripping the small country of just over four million people, fans are scouring Zagreb — including the museum — for Croatia kits and memorabilia for sale.
A visitor. Martin Ilic, 23, said he wandered in hoping to have his face painted in Croatian colours.
“I’ve gone into almost every store but they have all sold out of paint,” he said.
On the museum’s reception desk a bilingual sign in Croatian and English reads: “Dear visitors, in this Centre we DON’T SELL sporting equipment!!!”
“Hundreds of Croatians and foreign tourists come in every day now looking to buy replica jerseys,” said a museum guide, Katalin Kovak, 28.
“But unfortunately we don’t have a licence to sell them,” she added.
Kovak said the museum, opened two years ago by the Croatian Football Association, aims to celebrate the country’s football landmarks, including the low points.
One newspaper article on display shows a report from Croatia’s first ever unofficial match, a 15-2 thumping by Slavia Prague in 1907.
“We’ve come a long way since then,” said Kovak, pointing to Moscow city tourist maps also on offer to the museum’s visitors.
“Over 10,000 of us have gone there for the final,” she said.