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In The World Cup Final, LA's French And Croatian Communities See A Chance For A Repeat, Or Revenge

France National Team fans intently watch the World Cup match. (Photo courtesy France Fan Club)
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The World Cup final is this Sunday, and although Mexico, South Korea and Brazil all had their dreams dashed, the big match between France and Croatia is still getting L.A. soccer fans excited.

There's a bit of a grudge match happening here, too.

France has won the World Cup once before, in 1998. That was also the year Croatia had their best Cup finish, earning third place. Guess which team knocked them out in the semi-finals?

C'est la vie.

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Now, 20 years later, Croatia is looking to even the score -- and local fans are ready to watch.

"I think this is going to be a little revenge match," said Johnny Cvjetkovic of the Los Angeles Vatreni, a Croatian soccer fan club. "I think we've got to get the win and pay them a little payback for what happened in '98."

Croatian soccer fans with the L.A. Croatians or 'L.A. Vatreni' fan group are looking forward to the World Cup final. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Croatians)

French fans are still looking back fondly on the magic of the 1998 win.

"I was with my family in Paris ... celebrating the final of the World Cup and the victory of the French National Team on the Champs-Élysées," recalled Jaybe Da Ros, a French transplant. "The atmosphere was indescribable."

Da Ros moved to L.A. five years ago from Paris and later founded the France Fan Club, a group for French soccer fans.

This weekend the club will gather at Liaison Restaurant and Lounge in Hollywood to cheer on Team France. All soccer fans are welcome to attend, watch the match and munch on some delicious French pastries. Bring on the croissants!

All eyes were on the game at the last France Fan Club event for the World Cup. (Photo courtesy France Fan Club)

St. Anthony's Croatian Catholic Church will also open their doors to Croatians (and all soccer fans) wanting to enjoy the game. They're expecting a big crowd, said Cvjetkovic, who plans the church's watch parties. And if Croatia wins, the party will likely be an all-day event, he added.

"I think there will be a lot of Croatians calling out sick on Monday if we win the final," he said.

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Cvjetkovic feels strongly about Croatia's chances in the final. The team is perhaps the best Croatia has ever had, he said, and for many of the players this is about more than soccer.

"This is about pride, this is about country and everybody kind of learning about where we even are on the map, because most people don't know," he said.

For a small country like Croatia, winning a World Cup would also provide a way to be taken seriously. Especially by bigger countries like England and France.

"We cannot beat you in the politics, because you are too big, but we can beat you on the ground, with the sport!" said Aldo Aunedi, who immigrated to the United States from Croatia in 1968, and plans on watching the game at the packed Croatian American Club on Sunday morning.

But the Croatians aren't the only ones with confidence. Da Ros is expecting a French win on Sunday and said now is the time for fans to show their support for their home country's team.

"We need to be behind them," he said. "We need to push them to rise to the top and to win this World Cup."

If you want to watch the game in a room full of fellow soccer fans, Liaison and St. Anthony's aren't your only options in L.A.

  • The Croatian American Hall in San Pedro will close down a street so crowds can watch the match on a jumbo screen out front.
  • The French bistro Petit Trois Le Valley in Sherman Oaks will be ready for those who want to enjoy the game and get a bite to eat.
  • La Poubelle will also be open for those who want to bring Sunday brunch and soccer together.
  • And starting early at 6 a.m., the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes will have a celebration with interactive activities, live entertainment and fun photo opportunities (and the game of course).

We're not sure where Snoop Dogg will be watching the game, but we have a good idea who he'll be rooting for.

KPCC/LAist reporter Emily Guerin contributed to this story.

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's Take Two.

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