33-year-old Venezuelan Croata will long remember his visit to Spain last November. As the winner of Castrol's 2010 FIFA World Cup Predictor Challenge, this FIFA.com Club member enjoyed a session at Real Madrid’s training facilities, a match at the Santiago Bernabeu and, to top it all, met Cristiano Ronaldo.
“The trip exceeded all my expectations,” Croata told FIFA.com. “All my life I’ve been passionate about the game and I even played reserve team football for my hometown side, Universidad de Los Andes, in Merida. In Venezuela it’s not the biggest sport, so to go somewhere where football is king was an incredible experience,” said this Estudiantes de Merida fan of his first trip to the Old Continent.
The Venezuelan got to experience first-hand the passion of the Merengue faithful after witnessing Madrid’s 5-1 rout of Athletic Bilbao on November 20. “We were right there in the Bernabeu and it was truly impressive. I’d seen Copa America games when we hosted the tournament here in 2007, but this was something else. The stadium was packed and to experience that in the flesh is inspiring. At home in Merida we’re lucky if we get 12,000 fans,” he added.
One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Cristiano Ronaldo who, as luck would have it, netted a hat-trick that day in the Bernabeu. Croata takes up the story: “We met before the game at Cuidad Real Madrid for the training session we were scheduled to attend. Cristiano didn’t take part as he’d just picked up a knock in the Portugal-Spain game, but he couldn’t have been nicer. He signed my shirt and posed for photos, and then we watched him being interviewed by Castrol in the dressing rooms.”
Another unforgettable moment for the Predictor winner was the special training session that was part of the prize. “There was a group of us and they divided us into six teams. I was put with a group of German lads. They set up seven training tasks for us and we performed best of all, for which we received a football signed by Cristiano, who was watching. That was the highlight of the trip,” he said.
Croata was also blown away by the matchday experience at the Bernabeu: "Everything about it is spectacular – the sheer scale of the stadium, the history, the whole set-up."
"I loved the museum, where you can see everything from the club’s original jerseys to photos of every player to have represented the club. What struck me was the quantity of trophies they have, not just football ones but for basketball too.”
Despite his time with Los Merengues, the Venezuelan is sticking to his prediction that Barcelona will win the Spanish league this year. “They’re a very tight-knit group, which is down to Guardiola, and they play the best football. If they can keep their top players injury-free, I can’t see them slipping up.”
La Liga predictions aside, Croata is less sure about who will triumph domestically in other parts of the globe, as his modest placing in the current FIFA World Leagues Predictor confirms. “I’ve got next to nothing right so far but still hope to catch up,” he said with a laugh.
Croata is also trying his luck at FIFA.com’s latest offering, the FIFA World Cup Flashback Quiz. The Venezuelan signed off with a ringing endorsement of the FIFA.com Club. “I’d like to congratulate the Club because it opens its doors to people of every race and creed, and invites fans the world over to come together and share their experiences.”