HNK Rijeka conquers Croatia in a historic season


For the last 11 seasons Croatian football has been dominated by Dinamo Zagreb which has dominated so much that everyone asked when their domination is going to stop and who would stop the Blues from Zagreb?However the unthinkable has happened,the Blues from Zagreb were stopped and it wasn’t their biggest rival Hajduk Split who stopped them since they are in a mess currently,it was the club which emerged in the recent seasons as their biggest competitor-HNK Rijeka.The Whites from Rijeka have not just won the Croatian First league title,but also won the Croatian Cup for the fourth time in their history which they won their first ever double crown and dethroned the Blues from Zagreb.The story of HNK Rijeka begins after WWII when in 1946 the club was founded under the name SD Kvarner and in 1954 then changed the name to NK Rijeka,during that period the club was bouncing between the First and Second Yugoslav Division  until 1958 when for eleven consecutive years it played in the Yugoslav First Division,however in 1969 the club was relegated back to the Second Yugoslav Division and again in 1974 gained promotion to the Yugoslav First Division and stayed with varying success until the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991.In the late 1970s the club achieves its biggest successes ever by winning back-to-back Yugoslav Cups,first in 1978 when they won the final against Trepča by a single goal and then the following year against Partizan Belgrade 2-1.When it came the Yugoslav First Division,the closest Rijeka was to a title was in 1984 when they finished 2nd only two points behind Red Star Belgrade and in 1987 they were fourth.In the Croatian First League,the closest Rijeka was to the title until they dethroned Dinamo Zagreb was in 1999 when in the infamous match against Osijek on the last matchday which was controversial due to referee decisions Rijeka played only a 1-1 which wasn’t enough to clinch the title instead it led to 18 years pain and suffering which ended this season.The turning point for the club began in February 2012 when Italian businessman Gabrielle Volpi bought the club and injected much needed financial resources into the club and there were two crucial moments which led to the foundations of the championship winning team this season,first was the hiring of Damir Miskovic as the club’s chairman and just a year later was the hiring of Slovenian coach Matjaz Kek on the bench of the club.The road to championship in fact started in late Summer of 2013 in Stuttgart when they knocked out VFB Sttugart from the participation in the UEFA Europe League which for Rijeka meant more money in the club’s finances and with Hajduk Split in mess,they have replaced the Whites from Split as Dinamo’s biggest competitor in the Croatian First League for the last three seasons.Besides the loss of crucial players affected the club,with Matjaz Kek on the bench it didn’t had a long term impact,in fact they began more and more to catch Dinamo which finally this season they dethroned them the top spot.Rijeka began its unbeaten run in the Croatian First League in February last year when the last time they suffered a defeat from Dinamo Zagreb at Maksimir Stadium.From late February 2016 to early May of this year the Whites went 44 matches unbeaten which is an unprecedented run in Croatian football,the only two losses came at the end of the season against Lokomotiva Zagreb (Dinamo’s feeder club) which was a 1-0 defeat in the last minutes of the match and on the last matchday against Dinamo when it was known that Rijeka would be the new champion of Croatia,besides that Dinamo won 5-2,the Whites got their rematch just four days later in the Croatian Cup final which they beat Dinamo 3-1 where they completed a historical double crown and became well deserved the new rulers of Croatian football after years of hard work and hopefully they will continue with future successes with will bring the club to new heights and write new chapters of the club which has a rich history.




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