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The Balkans are famed for having some of the most passionate football supporters on the planet. Anyone that has followed their teams in UEFA competitions in countries such as Serbia, Croatia or Bulgaria knows that their ultras are not to be messed with. And it isn’t just passionate fans that the Balkan states have brought us. They have also brought us some of the greatest football clubs that the continent has ever seen.
Serbia has brought us the famed Red Star Belgrade. They are the record champions of old Yugoslavia, staving off competition from clubs from six other countries to lift the Yugoslav top league title on 19 occasions. They also hold the record of eight Serbian SuperLiga crowns since the league's formation in 2006, a record they share with their eternal city rivals, Partizan. Undoubtedly though, the greatest moment in Red Star’s history came back in 1991 when a team containing the likes of Siniša Mihaljović and Darko Pančev defeated Marseille on penalties to lift the European Cup for the first and only time in their history.
And it isn’t just Serbia that has quality football clubs. Croatia is home to Dinamo Zagreb, who famously defeated Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur last year to reach the Europa League quarter-finals adding to football's long list of shocking results in the process.
And it’s those two clubs, Red Star and Dinamo, that will be bringing us two of football’s fiercest derbies throughout the month of August. Let's take a look at them in more detail.
Partizan vs Red Star Belgrade - 31st August
The Eternal Derby, contested between Belgrade’s city-rivals Partizan and Red Star, is without a doubt the ferocious rivalry in European football. And this year, Serbia’s famed derby could be more menacing than ever before.
The reason for that is that last season, Red Star reigned supreme. Partizan were the ones that led the race for the title throughout the vast majority of last term, only for a late slip-up against Cukaricki opened the door for their city-rivals, which they duly bulldozed through to claim their fourth Superliga title on the spin.
To add insult to injury for Partizan, they also lost to their rivals in the Serbian cup final, after a double from Aleksandar Katai — his 31st and 32nd goals of the season — gave his side victory and in turn, a league and cup double.
Their victims that day will be on the hunt for revenge this season, and they won’t have to wait long to get it. The first eternal derby of the campaign will be hosted at Partizan’s 32,000-capacity Stadion Partizana on August 31st in the ninth round of the season, and the hosts will be hoping to lay down a marker for the rest of the campaign.
Dinamo Zagreb vs Hajduk Split - 13th August
Croatia’s HNL gets underway on July 15th with the Zagreb derby, Dinamo vs Lokomotiva, but that rivalry pales in comparison to the one that is shared between Dinamo and Hajduk Split. Croatians also know this fixture as their eternal derby, and it’s not hard to see why.
Despite the two city’s being over 400km and a four-hour drive apart, the pair have shared a competitive rivalry throughout the clubs’ 100+ year history. In the early days of the Croatian top-flight, it looked as though it would be Hadjuk that would take over as the dominant force in Croatian football after they won back-to-back crowns in 2003/04 & 04/05. Since then, however, Dinamo have embarked on an incredible run of 16 championships in 17 years, only interrupted by Rijeka, who secured their maiden victory in 2016/17.
Similar to Red Star in Serbia, the record-breaking Croatian champions also managed a league and cup double last season. They won their 23rd top division crown, finishing seven points ahead of their eternal rivals, before going on to defeat them in the Croatian cup final on penalties.
But Hadjuk won’t have to wait long for their shot at redemption, as they travel to the Maksimir on 13th August, and they will be out for blood.