BarcelonaIn Zadar, life seems to go by calmly, especially when the sun is shining. The Dalmatian coast is beautiful and this port that was Venetian for centuries, with its bell towers imitating those of Saint Mark’s Square with winged lions, has been watching children play football in the church square for years. Well, maybe they play water polo, as is often the case in Croatian ports. Or basketball, not far away is Sibenik, where Drazen Petrovic was born. “We like to compete, we like sports. We don’t like to lose,” Zadar’s son Daniel Subasic used to say.
The City Council of Zadar has given the title of honorary children of the city to various sportsmen in recent years. One of them, of course, is Luka Modric, who is from an inland town not far away, but grew up in Zadar, where his family sought refuge during the Balkan war. Two of these illustrious citizens are soccer goalkeepers. Both, international with their selection. And both, specialists in stopping penalties. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Daniel Subasic was one of the heroes for Croatia, who reached the final thanks to his saves. In both the round of 16 against the Danes and the quarter-finals against the Russians, Croatia qualified on penalties with Subasic taking the lead. “I admit that there’s a part of me that’s enjoying it at the moment. Nerves? A little. But I’m also having fun, challenging the opponent,” said the goalkeeper, who at 38 is still playing. The Croatians are now in the quarter-finals thanks to Dominik Livakovic’s three penalty saves against Japan. Yes, also son of the city of Zadar. The Croatians have never lost a penalty shootout at the World Cup and since their independence only the Turks have beaten them in this art at Euro 2008. The goalkeeper that day was Split-born Stipe Pletikosa. “In Zadar we know more”, joked Subasic yesterday speaking to the press of his country.
The new Croatian hero is 27-year-old Livakovic. Even before the World Cup he had the title of honorary son of the city. When they gave him the title more than one complained considering that he had not yet done anything of the other world. Yes, he was already the starting goalkeeper at Dinamo Zagreb, the club that wins the Croatian league every year. But on an international scale his merits were sitting on the bench waiting for the day Subasic grew up. People felt that he must have been given that honor because of who he was. His father, Zdravko Livakovic, an engineer, had been state secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Maritime Affairs during the government of centre-right Bozidar Kalmeta. The Livakovics are a respected family in Zadar. In fact, the Croatian goalie’s destiny seemed written when he was born: he would go to university and play basketball, as his grandfather, a well-known radiologist, was a manager of Zadar’s basketball club. When the new city hall was inaugurated, with Zdravko Livakovic in the City Hall as a councilor and the grandfather on the club board, it was decided that a boy would make the first basket of the facility: he be Dominik, the chosen one. “I started with basketball, but I quickly fell in love with soccer. In the second practice I was already in goal. My grandfather always gave me a lot of support in my career,” said this boy in an interview He was discovered by Dinamo Zagreb as a teenager. This posed a small problem. Croatia has two sides: the sea and the interior. On the Dalmatian coast, everyone loves Hajduk Split, the biggest club on the coast. And, therefore, you can’t even see the Dinamo of the capital, inside. Almost all the great players to emerge from Zadar end up playing for Hajduk, as Subasic has, but Livakovic left for Dinamo. “Sometimes you get told things you don’t like very much for being a Dalmatian and playing for Dinamo Zagreb,” admitted the goalkeeper.
His mother, an English teacher, has always asked him not to drop out. Now he has them frozen. He started international relations at the University of Zagreb, studies that he hopes to finish one day. Before that he will have to decide whether to go abroad or continue playing in Croatia. There is no lack of offers and, as he explains, his wife tells him that it would be nice to be able to live a few years away from home to learn languages and get to know other cultures. When they got married, by the way, they did it in the heart of Zadar, in the cathedral, built by the Venetians. One of those beautiful churches that, once you see it, you might think you’re in Italy. Among the guests was Subasic. “He has always been a person who has given me advice. He tells me that the goalkeeper needs to be calm and trust his instinct,” he says. They both know something about it. Whenever Croatia face a penalty shootout, a Zadar goalkeeper comes to the rescue. During the celebrations after defeating the Japanese, Livakovic, Modric and full-back Martin Erlic, all from Zadar, celebrated with a flag bearing the name of their city, where thousands of people celebrated in the streets.