MOSCOW (Reuters) – Croatian soccer fan Dubravko Flegar was so keen to support his team in the World Cup that he tried to drive to Russia, only to be turned back when he attempted to cross into annexed Crimea.
As a result he missed his team’s quarter final on July 7 but Croatia’s successful run all the way to a final against France given him time to re-draw his travel plans and finally make it to Russia.
The 51-year-old Croatian dental technician and three friends set off on a 2,000 km (1,250 miles) drive in a camper van, hoping to attend Croatia’s quarter-final against Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
But after crossing Hungary, Romania, Moldova and the breakaway state of Transdniestria – which none of them had heard of – they drove to southern Ukraine only to learn they could not drive into the peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
So they missed the game.
Crossing into the peninsula, which has effectively been integrated into Russia, is a complex process that requires prior permission from Kiev and Moscow.
“We didn’t know this,” Flegar said. “It took almost three days. The road is terrible.”
The only alternative route for them involved driving to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov north of rebel-controlled territories and then driving south through Russia. But the huge distances meant they would not make it in time.
They traded their quarter-final tickets for semi-final tickets, betting on a Croatia win against Russia, and drove home in what Flegar said was a 4,000 km round trip.
They booked a flight to Moscow to watch their team beat England 2-1 in the semi-final on July 11 and have stayed on in Moscow in the hope of securing tickets for Sunday’s final against France.
On Friday, Flegar was lunching with his three friends on a pedestrian street popular with fans with a sign cellotaped to his red and white checkered hat that read “Need Tickets.”
But they faced extortionate prices, though Flegar said he hoped they would succeed in obtaining tickets at a fair price.
“It’s too expensive at the moment. They asked $2,000. It’s too much,” Flegar told Reuters. “It’s a lot. For us four guys, that’s $8,000. We could buy a car,” he said.
(Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Richard Balmforth)