Seattle's Croatian community flocked to the Sarajevo Lounge, lining up before 7 a.m., to celebrate, even in defeat, their national team's run in the 2018 World Cup and their country's culture.
France’s third goal sucked the air out of the room. The fourth just brought despair.
But the Croatians climbed back into it, eventually falling 4-2. And by the time the 2018 World Cup final was over and the smallest country to make it there since 1950 had been defeated, there was no sorrow at Sarajevo Lounge, a club on most nights. But Sunday it opened its doors at 7 a.m., and hundreds of Croatia fans gathered to cheer on, for many, their home country.
There were some fans robed in the country’s flag — red-white-and-blue stripes with a shield, the country’s coat of arms, in the center — who also, as the final whistle blew, embraced the people around them. Toward the back of the room, a chant broke out, the same rallying cry that rang out before the match, at halftime and throughout the streets back home for weeks: HR-VATS-KA, HR-VATS-KA, HR-VATS-KA (translated: Cro-a-tia).
This Cinderella World Cup run has been a unifying moment for the local community of Croatians — and also for the country of 4 million not three decades removed from upheaval. It’s the furthest the national team has advanced, previously taking third in its first World Cup appearance in 1998, seven years after it declared its independence from Yugoslavia and three after the end of a debilitating military conflict with the Slavs.
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Many of the players on this team grew up in the shadows of that destruction and watched and looked up to that 1998 squad. They had erased deficits to move on in three straight knockout rounds. It was an easy team to root for. They did it again, too, falling behind 1-0 before tying it up, but eventually France’s billion-dollar Goliath proved too much.
It culminated in a celebration, even in defeat, replete with Croatian culture. There was a traditional breakfast spread and free-flowing Karlovacko, a classic Croatian brew. The club brought in a music group, Stranci, to soundtrack the intermission with Croatian tunes. Possibly most indicative of what it all meant, while the players kicked off the second half on the flatscreens above, for a moment, the music kept playing and the party goers kept conversing and the soccer was secondary.
For a moment.
Then Paul Pogba put his own deflection in the back of the net and gave France what felt like an insurmountable 3-1 lead.
The entirety of Seattle’s Croatian community wasn’t inside the Belltown club, but be sure: It’d be easier to find a Seahawks fan without a Super Bowl party than a Croat not in front of a television set at 8 sharp Sunday morning.
Zoran Lukic, who emigrated from Croatia 20 years ago, had to listen to the semifinal match at work. But he was at Sarajevo, clad in his red-and-white checkered kit, on Sunday morning.
Shellie Posavatz, who married into a Croatian family, helped lead a Croatian-American youth music group that toured Zagreb, where they got to witness the energy that had overtaken the country in the earlier rounds.
“Right off the square, people flying through the streets, and red and white checkers everywhere,” she said.
It was a similar scene inside Sarajevo.
Posavatz said she was hosting her own viewing party. The Junior Tamburitzans would be coming over, wearing the jerseys they bought in Zagreb. And there would be food. Lots of food.
“Croatians love to eat,” Posavatz said.