Moscow: While around 80,000 people savoured every moment of a hugely entertaining World Cup semi-final between Croatia and England at Luzhniki stadium here on Wednesday, Robert Holjevac listened to the gripping match at the stands because the 50-year-old Croatian has been completely blind since he was 15 years old. But lack of vision didn't prevent him from visualising the crucial moments of the game, which his beloved country won to reach their first final.
"I enjoyed the match immensely thanks to the graphic commentary given by my younger brother who was sitting next to me. I could visualise all the moves because I had played football until I lost my sight. I was born in six months, so I had always had vision problem from my birth. I instantly knew we had scored a goal from the noise dished out by our supporters towards the end ," said Holjevac, a professor at Croatian Institute of History in Zagreb.
As an expert on history, Holjevac offered his insights on football's importance for the Balkan country. "When Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia following an acrimonious fight with Serbians in the early 90s, it was like an unwanted child to the world. It was football that gave Croatians solace and an identity as we reached the semi-finals of the first World Cup we took part as an independent nation in 1998," he said.
Holjevac, whose knowledge on India is impressive, put Croatia's progress to the final in context. "Football is the world's favourite sport and to do well in its showpiece event is historic for a small country like Croatia, which only has a population of around four million. We want to go all the way. It's indeed possible to win the final, although we know France are a strong team," he added.
The ardent football lover was beside himself with joy when jubilant Croatian fans sought his company for a celebratory jig outside the Luzhniki Stadium. There was an extra spring in his steps as he danced with unalloyed joy.