There is much for Jamaica to learn from Croatia's success

Saturday, July 14, 2018

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Croatia's relentless march to the final of this year's FIFA World Cup against France scheduled for tomorrow in Moscow is nothing short of remarkable.

The team took a really long road to the final encounter — three games going into extra time and two penalty shoot-outs in the knock-out phase to squeeze past Denmark, Russia, and England.

We are particularly drawn to the Croats' performance given that they, like Jamaica and Japan, were debutants at the 1998 World Cup hosted by France.

We recall that there were some Jamaicans celebrating when it was announced that the Reggae Boyz were drawn in Group H, along with Argentina, Japan and Croatia. The belief among the uninformed few at the time was that Jamaica could get by Japan and Croatia.

As it turned out, Jamaica went down 1-3 to Croatia, were hammered 5-0 by Argentina, but beat Japan 2-1.

Jamaica went home after the group stage, while Croatia, having beaten Japan 1–0 then lost their third match against Argentina 0–1, moved on to the round 16.

Readers will recall that Croatia did well enough in that stage of the tournament and advanced to the semi-finals where they lost 1-2 to France. However, they beat The Netherlands 2-1 in the third-place play-off match.

That, we hold, was an exceptional performance by a country that only three years before emerged from a bitter independence war.

Over the last few weeks, football analysts worldwide have wondered how Croatia — a country with only four million inhabitants and which, it is said, does not have a structured football programme that nurtures and provides young players to the national set-up — could have achieved such success in this year's tournament.

The commentators are even more befuddled after receiving reports that football facilities in Croatia are basic, playing fields are not good, and clubs are finding it difficult to survive financially.

Those are problems with which Jamaica can identify — problems that are exacerbated by the fact that we do not treat football as a business. We don't, generally, approach the game in a manner that suggests that it can reap huge financial gains for not only clubs, but communities, players, and, overall, the country.

There is no shortage of footballing skills in Jamaica, and were it left to talent alone we are sure Jamaica would have qualified for other World Cup tournaments since 1998, just like Croatia and indeed Japan, the team we beat back then.

Maybe though, the difference between us and the Croats is their resilience, having experienced war.

On Thursday, Agence France-Press reported Mr Ivica Osim, the coach of the last Yugoslavia team before the country violently broke apart, as saying that the Croats have “managed to integrate their individual qualities into the collective” and never give up even when they are exhausted.

That never-say-die attitude has obviously contributed to their ability to beat the odds.

We saw some of that fixity of purpose in the last CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament when Jamaica went all the way to the final, beating regional giants Mexico in the process.

It's not impossible for us to recapture that spirit. Croatia's World Cup achievements can serve as motivation.

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