If you're out on McLeod Rd in Te Atatu tomorrow morning, listen for the roar.

Croatian football fans are expected to congregate at their local cultural society as a 6am kick-off looms for their side's World Cup semifinal against England.

Expect the building to bulge like a bunch of the finest Croatian wine-growing grapes.

The country's best result at football's global showpiece was third in 1998. They are potentially 90 footballing minutes from going at least one place better this time.


Ivan Vicelich played 88 "A" internationals for the All Whites, but will be drawn back to his Croatian roots with the pre-dawn alarm.

"We'll be expecting hundreds of people for an early start. These are the times when everyone comes together for a big party.

"We'll hear everyone's expectations of how we should 'win easy', then the reality sets in when the game starts. It'll be tough.

"There were a few minor heart attacks [during the penalty shoot outs against Denmark and Russia] and that could happen again. It's an exciting time for a small nation with quality players to do well on the big stage."

Vicelich expects the hospitality to be in full swing with "coffee, and possibly something stronger later if the team goes well".

Twenty years ago, a 21-year-old Vicelich was in Croatia when the team excelled in France.

"That inspired a nation, and it certainly helped inspire me and a number of young players. A lot of the current players would probably have been nine or 10 at the time."

Former Croatian cricket captain John Vujnovich lives in West Auckland.


He might get into town early and "make a morning of it" or put a lamb on a spit and wash it down with some bottles of red wine or rakija [a Croatian-inspired brew] depending on how the team fares.

"This [making the semifinals] is a dream come true for a football-mad country.

"I played cricket for them for 10-12 years and also spent time playing in England, so a win would be extra special.

"I texted one of the boys in Zagreb and he said it was going off. My brother Paul [a fellow Croatian cricketer] is over there, too. It's a big family event, there will be nervous tension throughout. You'd think there was more than football going on in our road judging by the amount of screaming during matches."

Vujnovich says they're a good chance of progressing if midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic push up the park, and the team looks to attack and create chances from the opening whistle.

Fellow cricketer and Northern Districts stalwart Joey Yovich agrees.

"We want to be attacking and stay positive.

"I honestly think we dominated [the quarter-final against Russia]. We were in their half more and had our noses in front."

Whangarei-based Yovich is banking on heading to his sister's place "for a fry-up".

"We'll start preparing from about 5am. We'll have all the kit on… and hope a couple of new shirts arrive in time."

Tennis veteran Marina Erakovic's earliest memories are from Split, the city of her birth on Croatia's Adriatic coast, before she immigrated to New Zealand in 1994 aged six.

She's been following the Cup from a distance, checking the news each day.

"But my Uncle Zarko has been watching. I hope it goes well for his heart rate.

"My family comes from all across the old Yugoslavia, so even when the Serbian team's been playing, we've supported them as well.

"I feel detached a little, given I left [Croatia] when I was young, but it's still a fun event."