Spring has returned … at least here in Florida, and that means the HNL is back in action.
Today marked the restart of the league after a long bleak winter and it kicked off with a match featuring NK Istra 1961 defeating NK Lokomotiva 1-0. Goran Roce scored the lone goal via the penalty spot in the 29th minute.
Istra just returned home after a warm and productive trip state side. The Puljani spent several weeks training in the desert of Arizona, facing off against American teams from MLS as well as second divisions of NASL and USL.
The Puljani ended their American trip with victories against the USL’s FC Arizona; PDL’s FC Tucson; MLS’s Portland Timbers, and the NASL’s North Carolina FC; draws against MLS’s Minnesota United and Real Salt Lake; and one loss against the New England Revolution.
Istra also returned with a new partnership with North Carolina FC (formerly known as the Carolina Rail Hawks). This means several players from NCFC will continue their preseason training in Istra with the club.
Midfielder Nazmi Albadawi and goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre will play with the team in Pula. The pair will return to North Carolina FC for the 2017 NASL season. As part of the partnership, two to three Istra players will be on loan to North Carolina FC during the 2017 NASL Season. Those players are to be determined.
Dinamo Zagreb squeaked out a 1-0 victory over NK Slaven Belupo on Saturday thanks to a penalty converted by Armin Hodžić.
The Dinamo lineup featured a mix of old and new. Sammir made his triumphant return to the Modri’s squad and claims he is “50-60 percent in form” and expects t reach his peak performance soon.
Sammir entered the game as a substitute around the 70th minute and was welcomed with a mixture of mostly cheers.
Dinamo will presumably be without the likes of Leonard Sigali for the foreseeable future after he was carted off the field in the closing minutes. Early reports suggest a serious knee injury. Dinamo coach Ivajlo Petev explains it is too early to know for sure, but does not look good. Sigali’s prognosis is pending an MRI.
The three points temporarily closed the gap between Dinamo and Rijeka to three points.
But the gap grew back to six points after Rijeka fought off NK Osijek in a hard-fought 3-2 victory in the Garden City.
Mario Gavranović scored the opening for Rijeka in the 18th minute, but Osijek kept up the pressure and gave Rijeka a scare, going up 2-1 by the 30th minute after goals from Dmytro Lyopa and Muzafer Ejupi.
But Franko Andrijašević, who was the target of several Seri A clubs, but was held n tightly by Rijeka, scored goals in the 56th and 85th minute to seal victory and three points for his side. Rijeka remain on top of the table, clear of Dinamo by six points.
Hajduk Split managed only a 1-1 draw against their city rivals, RNK Split, who are now managed by Elvis Socira.
Once again, Split need to heap praise on their goalkeeper, Tomislav Duku, who has consistently remained their best player. Duku made several outstanding saves, most notably in the opening minutes of the game on a free kick, to keep his team level with Hajduk.
Split had several opportunists to score throughout the match, including several attempts by Ivan Pešić. Pešić found the back of the net, but was narrowly ruled offside. He also missed a chance on the goal line, but tapped the ball straight into the air and over the goal.
Pešić eventually found the net for good in the 76th minute.
Hajduk answered quickly in the 82nd minute when former RNK Split player, Ante Erceg headed a cross pass Duku for the game-tying goal.
Inter Zapresić traveled to Vinkovci for a shot at three points against the struggling Cibalia side. The teams split the points after a 1-1 draw that saw both goals scored within one minute of each other. Ivan Blažević scored for Inter while Dejan Glavica answered only seconds after in the 52nd minute. Cibalia picked up their ninth point of the season to keep pace with RNK Split, but remain in last via gold difference.