Croatia and Northern Ireland experienced more joy and pain at the 2016 UEFA European Championship than any other team can expect at this year’s tournament in France.
Both countries have won games during Euro 2016’s first week, but the tragic losses of four lives have overshadowed Croatia’s and Northern Ireland’s success. How will personal and collective grief affect the countries’ campaigns from near and far?
The fathers of Croatia captain Darijo Srna and goalkeepers coach Marijan Mrmic died on June 12 and 14, respectively. Srna, whose father died during Croatia’s tournament-opening win over Turkey, flew home Monday for his father’s funeral along with head coach Ante Cacic. They returned to Croatia’s camp in Northern France the next day in order to resume preparations for Friday’s game against the Czech Republic, as the late Srna would have them do.
“It is a very difficult moment for me and my family and after talking to them, I decided to return to France,” Darijo Srna told a press confernece Thursday, according to The Mail. “It was my father’s last wish. He invested everything he had in my career and I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for him.”
Meanwhile, Mrmic left Croatia’s camp, presumably to mourn with his family.
Northern Ireland tragedies
Two Northern Ireland fans died have tragically in France. Darren Rodgers fell 25 feet from a promenade Monday in Nice, France and died from his injuries at age 24. Rodgers’ death came just hours after Northern Ireland lost to Poland in their first game of Euro 2016.
A Northern Ireland fan died Thursday at the Stade de Lyon as he watched his team’s historic win over Ukraine.
The 62-year-old fan suffered a heart attack, according to The BBC. Paramadics rushed to revive him but were unable to do so.
The death of Srna’s father obviously has drained the 34-year-old Croatia right back emotionally, and the travel will take its toll on him physically — although he says he’ll be ready Friday in that regard.
“I have to be strong and shift my focus on what lies ahead,” Srna told reporters. “The travel won’t be a factor as I also flew to a friendly against Austria in May 2010 the day after my wedding.”
Danijel Subasic, Croatia’s 31-year-old starting goalkeeper, is also expected to play, despite the potential absence of his coach, Mrmic.
Srna’s and Subasic’s positions place the highest premium on mental toughness, especially at the highest level. Given their ages and wealth of experiences, expect them to be sharp and hyper-focued, as a game often provides top-level athletes a temporary escape from life’s burdens.
It’s almost certain Croatia will be stronger collectively, as defender Domagoj Vida said Wednesday at a press conference.
“We all mourn when someone here suffers a loss because we are one big family,” Vida said, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star. “We will be galvanized to play for our captain and put him straight back on the rails. He is a great character and I am totally convinced he will be at his best Friday.”
Croatia was one of our dark-horse candidates to win Euro 2016 — a tournament we consider to be wide open and devoid of clear favorites — before the competition began. Tragedy could push Croatia to the next level. If Croatia reaches the semifinals, matching their performance in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, many will consider this group the country’s best-ever team.
We’ll find out when Croatia takes on the Czech Republic on Friday and Spain on June 21.
Northern Ireland’s losses will strengthen fans’ already tight bonds with each other and their team. The fans’ emotion will filter to the players. If Northern Ireland can harness that emotion and use it imrpove (if only slightly, it just might snatch at least a draw from Germany on June 21 in the final Group C game. By doing so, Northern Ireland would have four points — enough to progress to the Round of 16 and surpass all pre-tournament expectations … except their own.
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