Croatia takes on Japan today for a place in the quarterfinals at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and there will be one man with mixed feelings, especially if Hajduk Split striker Marko Livaja is amongst the scorers.
One of the most passionate supporters of Croatian football club Hajduk Split in the world is Akihisa Wada from Japan.
“I fell in love with Croatia and Hajduk Split in 2006 when I watched Croatia play Japan at the World Cup which was held in Japan. I watched the match and I was amazed – it all started then,” he told us earlier.
After learning more about Croatian football online, he discovered Hajduk and their passionate fans – Torcida. And that sold him.
“I watched fešta (parties) that Torcida made in Split and was amazed. It blew me away and then one Japanese player, Masahiko Inoha, signed for Hajduk so the Japanese media started to write more about the club,” he added.
Aki, as his friends call him, travelled over 9,500 from his home in Yokohama to Split just to watch Hajduk play in the Croatian Cup Final earlier this year. The crazy thing is this is not the first time he has done it.
Back in the summer of 2017, Aki made a 20,000 km round trip to watch Hajduk Split play Everton in the UEFA Europa League playoff in Split.
Aki turned an admiration then into an obsession and he began learning the Croatian language at a University in Tokyo and helping at the office of the Croatian Tourist Board in the Japanese capital.
His first taste of watching Hajduk Split live at Poljud Stadium back in 2011, when Hajduk played Rijeka in a league match, got him completely hooked.
“I saw that in Split they were very kind and noble people. That just strengthened my love for Split and Hajduk,” he said.
Aki has repeatedly made the long journey to Croatia to watch Hajduk play, even travelling around the country to see them in action. He was also a guest of the club when it celebrated its 104th birthday in 2015.
He has learned all of Torcida’s chants and Hajduk songs and knows the meanings of them all. He even has the lyrics of the Croatian national anthem on his wall in Yokohama.
Aki, who owns countless Hajduk scarfs and kits, can not really lose today as either way he will have a team to support in the quarterfinals.