Black 4x4 vehicles trundled around the lonely running track as the din of the Maksimir endured through half-time.
The previous forty-five minutes had given Croatia a 2-0 lead, something that the nervy home support and only slightly less anxious coaching staff were determined to celebrate. The opposing dug-out played home to an impotent, terse Sinisa Mihaljovic, in whom the nature of a tiger seemed to be reduced to the practical application of a domestic cat. The two goals that had brought about this state of affairs, though, resulted from an omnishambolic illustration of the worst of Aleksandar Kolarov.
Whilst the Croatia fans, draped almost completely in red and white squares, offered nothing but unrelenting noise, the commentator on the Videosport channel incessantly pronounced the match as 'the game of all games'. That buzzing repetitiveness was matched by the myriad failings of Kolarov's once-hailed left foot. The first goal, a three-yard trifle from Mario Mandzukic, resulted from the Manchester City full-back planting a fluffed free-kick landing at the Croatians' feet and exposing his defensive colleagues. The second, although coming from a delicious set piece by Dario Srna, demonstrated an unacceptable discord in the Serbian defence -- Kolarov was again involved.
The Serbian's skill set induces a tragic sympathy. Blessed with excellent technique that Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon combined couldn't muster from a mystic, Kolarov is hamstrung by a debilitating lack of pace that the English surpassed in primary school. His first goal for Lazio in 2007, a left-footed rifle against Reggina, exposes the excellence that such a left foot can produce, though another speciality, free-kick taking, came up horrifically short last night.
At the age of 27, Kolarov's place on the green of a football field still hasn't been entirely cemented. Too slow to be the attacking threat that his technique so desperately deserves, and lacking the defensive capabilities to become an above average left-back, this son of Belgrade is caught in between the two archetypes needed to be successful along the left-flank. Reminiscent of Michel Tarnat, who joined City in the freezing winter of his career, Roberto Mancini may see better results from deploying Kolarov in the inappropriately phrased 'quarter-back' role.
The unnecessary and ill-advised sale of Nigel de Jong in the summer, combined with the relative failure of Javi Garcia in a City shirt, excused only by a magnificent combination of hair and beard, means that Gareth Barry, slower and less technically sound than Kolarov, sits at the base of the midfield. Jack Rodwell, as ever, sits on the treatment table. And with City now, realistically, playing for pride and an FA Cup trying their failing left-back in the base of the midfield may not be such a bad idea.
The implementation of this may be taken to with as little enthusiasm as Kolarov in a Harlem Shake video, and may have all the success of last night's free-kick taking, but it is an idea. And with Manchester City set to have a clear-out of playing staff over the summer, it may be one which rescues the Serb's time in England.