FIFA World Cup: Village in North Goa supports Croatia, hopes they reach the final

On Tuesday when Croatia take the field against two-time champions Argentina in a FIFA World Cup semifinal at the Lusail Stadium, a small village in North Goa, having economic and religious ties with Dubrovnik town, will be hoping Zlatko Dalic’s side becomes the first back-to-back finalists since Brazil in 2002.

But the villagers in the Gaundalim in North Goa are not the only Goans who will be supporting the Kockasti, meaning the chequered ones in accordance with the pattern on their national flag, in the last-four clash.

Miles apart in Split, Dalmatia, the Kovacic couple Marian Theresa De Souza Kovacic and her husband Ivo Kovacic will be glued to the television and following the match from their home and missing the action in Qatar.

Both of them were longtime residents of Doha, the capital city of the host country and moved back to Croatia in December 2020. Both of them are hoping the country of 4 million people will make it to the December 18 final.

“Yes we miss the football action, we are seriously considering and planning to come to the final if we make it,” said Marian, who worked in Qatar for nearly three decades.

It was in multi-cultural Qatar that Marian, who traces her roots to the Indian state of Goa, became friends with Ivo and tied the knot in 2008.

“Faith brought us together in 2008. We met in the church compound, and five months later we got married in the same church. The marriage was officiated by his priest uncle Don Dr. Slavko Kovacic from Croatia and witnessed by both our families and friends,” recalls Marian, who traces her roots to the coastal village of Calangute in North Goa, but was born and brought up in Mumbai.

“I spent most of my life in Qatar, almost 30 years. During which time besides my job I assisted and rendered service in the church and my husband too was actively involved in the church activities,” she added.

Recalling her time in Qatar she said: “I was fascinated with the multicultural environment, the Arabic culture, the beautiful churches and the hospitality and safe environment in Qatar.”

Once in Croatia, Marian went on a Church searching mission and she was amazed at what she discovered.

“When I arrived in Croatia, in my first six months I visited 40 churches only in the Split area. This itself will tell you how strong the Catholic faith is in Croatia. 80% of Croations are Catholics and I am overwhelmed to see that,” she said about the Catholic faith in the country which was earlier part of Yugoslavia.

Besides the Kovacic couple, there are still a few more things that connect Goa to Croatia.

The Gaundalim village in North Goa, which was once a small-time port from where trade flourished, brought many European traders in search of spices and other trading goods and a few of those traders happened to be Croatian from Dubrovnik.

Marian recalls that many Croatians are well-versed in the historic and religious ties between Gaundalim and Dubrovnik, with many Croatians making it a point to visit the village which is situated close to Old Goa, a village that houses some of the magnificent churches built during the 450 plus years of Portuguese rule in the state.

“The St. Blaise church in Gaundalim built by Croatians is a smaller replica of the St. Blaise church in Dubrovnik which uncle of my husband Don Slavko Kovacic, professor of Church history ‘nlightened us when my husband’s family learned he is getting married to a Goan,” recalled Marian.

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