They play in the Croatian kit, there is a Croatian flag flying on the club building, and all of the team members are huge Croatian fans. Vila Croácia is a unique favela football team in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.
It all started in 1954 when Croatian Priest Damijan Rodin arrived in Brazil to work with under privileged kids. He opened two schools, naming one Brasil – Croacia. Rodin passed away in 1968 and in his honour, Vila Croácia was formed.
Vila Croácia first played in 1986 in the Favela Football Championships, a competition which has produced a number of Brazilian internationals and also Croatia’s Brazilian star Eduardo Da Silva.
Eduardo even paid the club a visit when Croatia was in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Two years later the Croatian Olympic Committee would also visit the club during the Rio Olympics, gifting Vila Croácia a brand new Croatian kit to play in.
Vila Croácia, however, is struggling and they are seeking out help to keep the project going.
“Due to a lack of finances, we face the danger of the Vila Croácia project ending. We are trying our best, giving it our all but we need a programme. We need someone who will help us out so we can continue this project with love. Whether it is a business, sports club, an individual…any help is desperately needed,” Manager of Vila Croácia, Diogo Raymundo, told 24sata.
Around 120 kids are involved at Vila Croácia, who have won age-group titles in Rio de Janeiro, but 11 of them between the ages of 10-18 have lost their lives in the rough favela.
“Before a tournament, I asked my mother to sew two Croatian flags. She sewed night and day and with pride we created them. You know it is not easy. We owe the Croatians, they have helped us out so much and we will continue to play with the Croatian crest whilst we are alive. We would like someone from Croatia to see us and to help us if they can,” Raymundo concluded.
(Photos: Vila Croácia)