Croatia, a small Eastern European country with a population of just over 4 million, will play its first FIFA World Cup final on Sunday in Moscow.
By all accounts, it’s been a remarkable journey for the men from the Balkans who have endured three consecutive knockout matches going into extra time and two penalty shootouts. If they win, it’ll truly be one of the great sporting achievements of our generation.
One can be sure that the football-mad state of Goa will watch Sunday’s final between Croatia and France with rapt attention. While many may fancy the French, there is one small village supporting the team from the Balkans as a result of an interesting bit of shared history.
Way back in the 16th century, a group of Croat sailors and merchants visited a small riverside settlement 4 km away from Old Goa called Gandaulim. While the sailors and traders didn’t stay for long, what they did leave behind was the restored Church of Sao Braz besides the Cambarjua canal.
Centuries after they left, the link between Croatia and this settlement in Goa was rediscovered by Croatian Indologist Zdravka Matisic, while she was studying Sanskrit in India.
“Moments of ecstasy awaited her (Zdravka) at Gandaulim when she saw that the Church of Sao Braz, a small chapel built in June 1541 and elevated to a parish church in 1563 by Archbishop D Frei Alexio de Menezes (1595-1607). The petite church had a remarkable resemblance to the church of Svete Vlaho (Sao Braz) in Dubrovnik in her country.
Her painstaking research motivated the visit of a 15-member Parliamentary delegation from the Republic of Croatia, accompanied by Ambassador Zoran Andric, to the quaint little Gandaulim village in April 1999,” says this report in Goa Now.
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Some historians believe that the Portuguese may have brought the Croats, who were expert shipbuilders, while another theory suggests that Croats came over to this teeming suburb of Old Goa as merchants. Portuguese writer Gomes Catao, meanwhile, refers to a thriving town of nearly 12,000 residents during its heyday filled with Croats. However, some believe that differences with the occupying Portuguese changed those dynamics and they soon left.
Nonetheless, since the delegation’s visit in 1999, the village has received more Croatian tourists every year. “Every time a Croatian ship comes to the Mormugao harbour, the sailors come to visit our church,” says a villager Braz Silveira to the Times of India.
Croats from different walks of life have sought to donate their money or work to restore the church, and this has resulted in the development of a close rapport between the locals and tourists. In fact, last year a Croatian team visited the village to film a documentary.
“We are waiting to see the documentary that recorded the historical landmarks in our village,” says Esperance Silveria e Vaz, another village resident, to ToI.
While many in India will support the French in the World Cup final, one can be sure that this small village in Croatia will back the men from the Balkans.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)