BY BONNIE BARKMEYER
In an all-European Grand Final, the Croatian Knights were crowned the 2017 AFL International Cup Division 2 premiers. The Knights acclimatised to the wet and windy conditions to outmuscle Germany 11.8 (74) to 1.2 (8). Knights captain Tomislav Cvetko was named best on ground for his outstanding performance, kicking three goals and taking 10 marks, on a day where conditions made marking difficult. Knights coach, Josip Kravar was overjoyed by his side’s performance and singled out the forward pairing of Cvetko and Ivan Ivos as the deciding factor in the game.
“I am very happy with how we played today. We were super hard at the ball and made sure the German’s didn’t have any free space,” said Kravar.
“Ivan [Ivos] and Cvetko were our best players and played really well in the wet conditions. They were too good for the German defence.”
The victory was a fairy tale ending to the International Cup for the Knights, who were competing in the tournament for the first time.
The premiership will be a handy inclusion to the Knights impressive trophy cabinet, which already has eight Euro Cup medals.
For the German’s, the Grand Final was a disappointing end to a stellar tournament. Also playing in their first International Cup, the Eagles finished second in Pool 2 and defeated China by 28 points in the Preliminary final.
Though disappointed by the result, German coach Mark Woods said he was proud of his side’s overall tournament and that this was “just the start of German footy”.
Wet and windy conditions made it tricky for both sides to gain the upper hand in the opening term. Easy marks were dropped and congestion made the match look more like rugby than Aussie rules football. Croatia had more of the attacking play in the first five minutes of the game, but it was Germany who opened the scoring, courtesy of a goal off the ground to Johannes Binninger. The goal against the run of play would be the Eagles final attack in the opening term, as the Knights forward pressure made it difficult for the German’s to clear the ball from their defence.
Ivan Ivos took a juggling mark and converted from 40 metres out from goal to give the Knights a onepoint lead at quarter time.
Like all of their matches in the tournament, the Knights did not take advantage of their superior play in the opening term. While Germany had the wind in the second quarter, the Knights continued to apply forward pressure.
Josip Habljak’s dash off halfback was proving hard to handle for the German’s and the South Australian based Croatian set up Ivos for his second goal of the game. Habljak would then add to the scoreboard, weaving through opponents and kicking a goal.
Key to the Knights dominant play was coach Joisp Kravar. Known as ‘the tractor’ for his physical style of play, Kravar moved himself into the Knights midfield and crashed open packs, allowing the Knights to gain midfield dominance.
At halftime the Knights led by 21 points.
Woods pleaded with his players to find some aggression in the second half. The German’s showed more spirit in the third term, but the Knights continued to dominate.
Tomislav Cvetko continued to clunk marks around the ground and kicked a goal, but the quarter belonged to Tomislav Nedic. Nedic was a nuisance across half forward and used his pace to break away from opponents, kicking 1.2 in the term.
Trailing by 36 points at three quarter time, coach Woods continued to implore his side to end the tournament on a positive note.
“We’ve got one more quarter left of this entire tournament to put our bodies on the line and play as a team,” Woods said.
“Let’s give absolutely everything for our country.”
Croatia’s final term was their strongest, kicking 32 points and running away with the game. Ivos ran into an open goal for his fourth goal of the game, while Habljak snapped a major from the boundary.
But the final quarter belonged to Cvetko, who at the age of 32, showed he is still one of the fittest men on the field.
Cvetko’s unequivocal ‘will’ to get the ball was inspirational and resulted in two goals in the final term.
As the siren sounded the Croatian players and fans ran onto the field to celebrate the victory.
The Knights were expected to be one the better sides in the tournament, but no one expected them to dominate as they did, conceding only 27 points in their four victories.
Josip Kravar announced after the match that he will call curtains on his playing career and focus on coaching. But as Kravar said, all focus now turns to the premiership celebrations.
SCORES Croatia: 11.8. (74) Germany: 1.2. (8) GOALS Croatia: I. Ivos 4, T. Cvetko 3, J. Habljak 2, T. Nedic Germany: J. Binninger BEST Croatia: T. Cvetko, I. Ivos, J. Habljak, J. Dolezal, I. Molnar, M. Jurmanovic Germany: M. Schuettoff, S. Esche, J. Jung, R. Odenthal, J. Wichmann, J. Binninger