France’s Antoine Griezmann celebrates at the end of the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Canadian soccer fans brace for World Cup final between France, Croatia

First ever final for the Croatians, while it’s France’s third, going into match as betting favourite

Soccer fans across Canada will be glued to their screens this morning as Croatia takes on France in the World Cup final in Moscow.

It’s the first ever final for the Croatians, while France is there for the third time and goes into the match as the betting favourite.

Canada, of course, did not have a team in this year’s tournament — or in any World Cup other than 1986, when it finished in last place and did not score a goal.

But soccer-mad Canadians have been following along with every goal, save and embellished foul of the tournament, and both finalists have their share of fans here.

The biggest concentration of diehard fans of the French side is likely in Montreal, where Statistics Canada estimates roughly 57,000 people who were born in France live.

For Croatia, it’s the Toronto area, which as many as 10,000 people whose first language is Croatian call home.

WATCH: Croatian fans rejoice over semi-final win

The Croatian Parish Park in Mississauga today is set to be packed with Croatian-Canadian fans, according to Ivan Kulis, who works for the Toronto Croatia Academy.

“Croatia isn’t a big country, but everyone follows the World Cup. Millions of people are going to watch the final all around the world,” he said.

“So for a small country like Croatia to be in the finals, it’s something very big in history.”

Although Croatia came third in the 1998 tournament — just seven years after the country declared independence from Yugoslavia — this is “one step bigger,” Kulis said.

Mississauga has a proud, tight-knit Croatian-Canadian community, said Erica Zlomislic, who works with the Croatian Heritage Association.

“I watch these games and I get teary-eyed,” she said. “When you’re under a foreign occupier, it toughens you. These guys are patriots.”

She said what makes this year’s team great is their leadership, faith and hard work along with their coach, Zlatko Dalic, who’s expertise has taken them a long way.

It’s by coincidence that today is the annual Croatian pilgrimage to the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ont., about a two-hour drive north of Toronto. Zlomislic, 47, said she will be going to that before watching the game.

“We’ll just go and pray for the team,” she said. “Even if they get a silver, I don’t think people will be disappointed.”

“It’s good promotion for the country and the community, because we don’t have to explain who we are anymore.”

The Canadian Press

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