Derby fixtures stoke the emotional fires, polarise the fans and add spice to the bread and butter of league football.
Barcelona versus Real Madrid or Boca Juniors against River Plate are the stuff of schoolboy dreams, but another derby with a less global profile serves up just as much spectacle, drama and passion. When Dinamo Zagreb take on Hajduk Split at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb on 24 February 2007, it will be the 160th Vjecni derbi (Eternal derby) between the Croatian arch-rivals.
Joy for Dinamo
On 24 February 2007, the 160th Vjecni Derby took place in the Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb, which ended in victory for the hosts. The Modri (Dark Blues) secured a 2-1 victory, which was enough to extend their lead to six points at the top of the table.
Eduardo scored for the eight times champions in the 20th minute and also doubled their advantage shortly before the interval. Although Mladen Bartolovic pulled one back five minutes from time, it proved to be little more than a consolation for the visitors.
Dinamo have now enjoyed 65 victories over their rivals, played out 37 draws and suffered 58 defeats. However, the club's president Mirko Barisic has warned that these figures do not mean a great deal of importance: "When Dinamo and Hadjuk play, history or current form is irrelevant. In the 'Eternal Derby' the players play above themselves - and everything is possible."
A wealth of history
In the aftermath of the Second World War and the establishment of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, long-standing Zagreb clubs HASK and Gradanski were merged to form Dinamo. The club collected four championship titles in the former Yugoslav Republic (1948, 1952, 1958 and 1982) and claimed the domestic Cup on seven occasions (1951, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1969, 1980 and 1983). The Modri registered their greatest success on the international stage in the 1967 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, forerunner to today's UEFA Cup, with a 2-0 aggregate victory over favourites Leeds United.
Their semi-final encounter with Bundesliga giants Eintracht Frankfurt has become the stuff of legend, as Dinamo recovered from a 3-0 first-leg deficit with a dramatic 4-0 turnaround on their home Maksimir Stadium turf. Perhaps the best-known players in the club's 52-year history are Velimir Zajec, Zlatko Kranjcar, Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki and Zvonimir Boban.
Hajduk Split boast similarly intriguing beginnings and a proud record of success. The team based on the Adriatic coast was founded in somewhat curious circumstances in 1911. Four students resolved to establish a new football club, bursting melodramatically into the office of one Professor Barac for advice on a suitable name. The good professor suggested the name Hajduk, or 'The Insurgents', after the boisterous fashion in which the students had stormed his office. The team, also nicknamed the 'Champions from the coast', proceeded to rack up 17 league titles, most recently in 2005, and 13 Cup triumphs. Club legends include Bernard Vukas, Ivica Surjak, Alen Boksic, Robert Jarni, Igor Tudor and current Croatia coach Slaven Bilic.
The first-ever official Eternal derby took place on 1 April 1946. Hajduk emerged 2-0 winners and also took the next two meetings, before Dinamo registered their first success on 14 September 1947. The biggest margin of victory to date was eventual champions Hajduk's 6-0 away victory in 1957.
Dinamo took revenge in the 1963 Cup final, trouncing their rivals 4-0 in the first leg before claiming the return in Split 4-1. However, matches are traditionally close-fought affairs with thumping victories a rarity. "Neither side can afford to lose the derby," said current Dinamo boss Branko Ivankovic. "The media and opposing fans are prone to crow for weeks afterwards. We all want to avoid that."
The classic clash between two arch-rivals has lost nothing of its edge and excitement over the years. For at least a week, the entire nation splits into opposing camps, prompting plentiful column inches in the papers and report after analysis after latest news bulletin on TV. The match serves to divide many a family, one section for Modri and the other for Bili.
On matchday itself, the stage is set by renowned supporter firms the Bad Blue Boys from Zagreb and Torcida from Split, creating a sensational atmosphere with unceasing chants and choreographed moves. "What our fans get up to is just tremendous," marvels Mario Carevic, currently on loan to Hajduk from VfB Stuttgart. Dinamo's Brazilian-born international striker Eduardo da Silva echoes that thought: "I've seen a few things in Brazil but when I see the show put on by our fans here, a shiver goes down my spine. It's just gigantic!"
Whoever takes the honours at the end of the day, football is always the real winner. Derbies are a melting pot of unforgettable moments and memories, able to put a shine in fans' eyes even years later. And as any football fan knows, a derby win is truly something to savour.