My final day in Osijek, Croatia produced a number of interesting meetings, from an exclusive interview with Davor Šuker, to finally getting the last signature I needed on my Croatia football which was a Luka Modric autograph to being invited by Šuker to sit down with the Israeli Ambassador to Croatia Zina Kalay-Kleitman, the famous Israeli singer, comedian, impressionist, composer, writer, painter, and cantor Motti Giladi, Professor Dragan Primorac M.D., Ph.D. the President of the Croatian-Israeli Business Club and the Croatian Minister of Science, Education and Sport Predrag Šuskar.
How did all that happen? Well as they say timing is everything and after these wonderful encounters I can truly say that Croatia is true friend of our country, Israel.
I was originally supposed to meet with Davor Šuker the night before following the Ivan Rakitic Player of the Year award ceremony but luckily it was pushed off to the next day at noon. Luckily because all of the meetings above would have never taken place should the interview have happened as scheduled.
Following the interview with Šuker, myself along with photographer Udi Ziatat sat in the lobby to collect ourselves and for Udi to have a bite to eat. The night before I had scored autographs from pretty much everyone on the Croatian National Team on a football that I would bring back for my children in Israel. However, the one person who had eluded me was Luka Modric. I had met Modric for a minute the prior day at the stadium following practice and had a nice picture taken with him but I didn’t have a chance to get him to sign the ball.
As we sat in the lobby of Hotel Osijek, lo and behold who comes out of the elevator? None other than Modric who couldn’t have been any nicer and kinder taking pictures with a few people around along with signing the ball right by the Euro 2016 logo. Sweet!
After Udi and I digested what had just happened, Šuker walked by into the restaurant area. But just two minutes later he was back looking for us to join him with all the celebrities mentioned above. We couldn’t get their fast enough!
Having the great honor sit meet with our Ambassador to Croatia, Zina Kalay-Kleitman was absolutely incredible as I learned about the positive relations Israel is having with the new Government. Much of the success is due to Dragan Primorac who almost singlehandedly forged the relationship between the two countries and has played an instrumental part in helping the relationship turn into a true friendship.
Motti Giladi, one of Israel’s all-time talents then sat me and Davor Šuker down to discuss how the friendship between the nation’s has developed and grown over the years, each one of listening intently to the giant describe how Primorac has done just that. Giladi’s warm smile and firm grip on reality truly shows that our countries have much in common as we both con tie to develop and expand.
Interestingly enough Croatia’s most frequent opponent has been Israel (and Slovenia) playing 9 times in either European or World Cup qualifiers and International Friendlies. That alone shows the bond that our great countries have together.
When Ambassador Kalay-Kleitman was introduced at the Osijek Stadium she was met with a round of applause as the locals cheered the Israeli National Anthem, Hatikva and gave Yossi Benayoun a standing ovation when he was substituted into the match. The journalists next to me in the press box couldn’t speak highly enough about Benayoun who had been a star with Liverpool and with a number of English clubs. Benayoun himself told me after the match that the fans recognized what he had done for the game and what type of impact and player he was especially and how much it meant to him to be serenaded by the crowd.
I believe that our continued relationship with Croatia will only aid in developing more and more ties throughout Europe and beyond. I also think that Šuker will not just stop at being the President of the Croatian Football Federation but one day the President of the country. It’s clear that Davor Šuker is a true friend of Israel and one that I can’t wait to welcome to the Holy Land for his first visit in the upcoming year.