The centenary celebrations continued for HNK Hajduk Split at the weekend as the Croatian giants welcomed illustrious guests FC Barcelona for an exhibition match at Stadion Poljud.
The club began their festivities on 13 February, exactly 100 years to the day after they were founded by four Prague-based students eager to establish a team in their hometown. That event was marked by a memorable firework display and a friendly against SK Slavia Praha and, having lost that game 2-0, Hajduk were delighted to regain any lost pride by holding the European champions to a goalless draw on Saturday.
Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola left a number of big names behind for the trip, but his lineup still boasted the likes of David Villa, Andrés Iniesta and Víctor Valdés, giving the home side the perfect opportunity to test their mettle. They passed with flying colours too, new coach Krasimir Balakov coaxing a resolute performance from his players, who held firm at the back and even enjoyed several chances to take the lead.
"We didn't want to embarrass the European champions," joked Ante Vukušić afterwards, the Hajduk forward having missed a number of openings himself. "
Although they were missing a lot of first-team players, we played very well and maybe even a little better than the mighty Barcelona."
Marin Tomasov was similarly effusive after the encounter, which was played in front of a packed crowd who generated a superb atmosphere in the stands. "It was a great occasion to play against such a big team," said the midfielder, who put in a noteworthy performance against Guardiola's men. "This is a moment I'll remember all my life."
"Split is a city of football and everyone knows everything about football here," added the Barça tactician. "This was our first match and I'm happy because there were no injuries. Of course, we have to play better, but I'm satisfied with it as a first match.
The atmosphere was amazing and it was a real pleasure to be a part of it."
Guardiola also had a few words of praise for his team's hosts, who kicked off the new Croatian First League season with a 2-1 success against HNK Šibenik on 19 July and travel to face Stoke City FC in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday. "Hajduk are looking pretty good and Balakov is doing a good job here," he said, giving encouragement to the former Bulgaria midfielder who took over in May.
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