These are difficult times in Croatia with all four of their representatives out or on the verge of exiting European competition - while NK Dinamo Zagreb and NK Varteks set the early pace in the First League.
Champions HNK Hajduk Split got off to the worst possible start as they were humbled by Hungarian outfit Debreceni VSC in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round. A 3-0 away defeat was followed by a 5-0 humiliation in the return at the Poljud stadium as the club that reached the quarter-finals eleven years ago were resoundingly beaten.
The result was especially embarrassing for new coach Miroslav Blazevic, who had predicted a walkover in the run-up to the tie. His subsequent resignation offer was declined by the Hajduk board and Blazevic has promised to battle on. "I'm in a difficult period, maybe the worst of my career," he said. "But I will not run away, it would be a cowardly move."
Hajduk are not the only side floundering in Europe, with HNK Rijeka and NK Inter Zaprešic close to elimination in the UEFA Cup after second qualifying round first-leg defeats. European debutants Inter lost 3-1 at home to one-time continental champions FK Crvena Zvezda. They must now score at least three times in Serbia and Montenegro on 25 August, when Rijeka will look to overcome a 1-0 deficit at home to Bulgaria's PFC Litex Lovech.
These results have led to recriminations in Croatia, with Inter coach Srecko Bogdan reflecting: "It's time to think about Croatian football, some things have to change." At least one team are content with the status quo, though: as their rivals struggle, Dinamo Zagreb, boosted by the signing of Korean Republic defender Kim Hyun Soo on a one-year deal, have had a fine start to the season.
The capital club recovered from a surprise defeat by NK Osijek to claim back-to-back victories, thrashing Rijeka 5-1 before a 6-0 away success against Inter. "We have shown our power and true strength," vice-president Zdravko Mamic said, though even that was insufficient to dislodge Varteks at the summit. The leaders have made a 100 per cent start to the campaign with four straight wins as they target a first-ever league title.
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