HNK Šibenik fans have never had a season like this one. The club from the Dalmatian coast have been the talk of their home town for months, with fans taking to the streets to welcome Branko Karačić's side home after they won 2-0 at NK Varteks to set up a Croatian Cup final meeting against local giants HNK Hajduk Split.
"We were shocked with the welcome when we got back to Sibenik," said the club's 18-year-old captain and Croatia Under-19 defensive midfielder Arijan Ademi. "Hundreds of fans were waiting for us and they were really great." Even more are expected at the Šubićevac Stadium as they look to win the Croatian Cup in the second leg of the final on 5 May.
Having lost the opening fixture 2-1 in Split last week, Šibenik feel that they still have a great chance of winning the competition and a place in the UEFA Europa League when the final concludes on 5 May. The club's 22-year-old top scorer Ermin Zec said: "The stadium will be full, the atmosphere will be incredible. It will be chance for us to showcase our skills in front of the whole country and possibly to scouts on the lookout for some quality."
Bosnian international Zec is one of the most in-demand players in Croatian football with his ten goals in 20 league games this season, but coach Branko Karačić – once a midfielder and free-kick specialist for Hajduk, KSV Cercle Brugge, KAA Gent and FC Linz – believes he is not the only star in his ranks. "All of my players are heroes," he said after Šibenik reached the cup final. "I want to thank them for their great efforts and success. We have showed that Hajduk and Dinamo are not the only top clubs in Croatia."
Šibenik's successes this season have not been isolated to knockout competitions. They were second in the table for much of the campaign, dipping to fifth in recent months as their focus shifted to the Croatian Cup. A number of players may be snapped up by other clubs when the summer transfer window opens, but should Šibenik earn a first attempt at European competition next season, some might be tempted to stick around to see what happens next.