Looking to end GNK Dinamo Zagreb's eight-year hegemony, HNK Hajduk Split are setting an impressive pace at the Croatian First League summit.
Dinamo have been the dominant force in Croatia for nearly a decade, winning every title since Hajduk last lifted the trophy in 2005. Hajduk didn't even temporarily regain top spot for four years after that; when they did, they again lost out to Dinamo in 2009. Another four years later and they are back at the head of the standings after ten rounds of fixtures.
Though Hajduk are only in front of Dinamo on goal difference, they look to be genuine contenders once more; at last, the renowned Torcida fan group has reason to cheer. The man at the Hajduk helm is Igor Tudor, who started and finished his playing career with the Dalmatian club, enjoying prolonged success at Juventus in between. Considering the prevailing financial instability when Tudor took over, his achievements have been particularly startling.
"I am really glad our fans are not only enjoying [European games on television] on Tuesdays and Wednesdays , but also [Hajduk games] at the weekend as well," said Tudor, 35. "
I congratulate my players, they are really great guys and a good team. These results are down to the work of everyone at the club."
There is one particularly talked-about name in Split these days: 20-year-old left-winger Marko Bencun. In little more than a week, Bencun has gone from substitute to star, scoring four goals in Hajduk's last two top-flight outings. "Before I was regularly missing clear chances," said Bencun. "But now, in the last match, two shots and two goals. I am in form and hope that will continue."
Recalled by Tudor after several loan stints, Bencun's fine spell in front of goal did indeed continue on Wednesday when he struck from the penalty spot in Hajduk's Croatian Cup success against NK Vinogradar. The highlight so far, though, were those First League efforts against NK Hrvatska Dragovoljac and NK Lokomotiva Zagreb.
"After the last match I got so many calls and text messages that I had to turn my phone off," he said after Saturday's 3-1 win against Lokomotiva. "My girfriend Marina also congratulated me – maybe my form is the result of her prayers. My goals against Hrvatska Dragovoljac are dedicated to my family and the two against Lokomotiva are dedicated to our fans at Torcida after their 63th birthday. They took us to the top of the table with their support. They are really special."
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