After the fist-clenching injustice of Croatia’s opening day defeat to Brazil, the players decided it would be helpful to unwind as a team and let it all hang out poolside.
While they were relaxing in a hot-tub at their hotel in Praia do Forte on Brazil’s north eastern coast, two photographers crept up on the unsuspecting footballers. From their vantage point amid the shrubbery, the paparazzi snapped a series of photographs that are definitely not suitable for work.
The Croatian tabloid 24 Sata published the images online choosing to pixelate the penis of English Premier League defender Dejan Lovren but leaving them otherwise uncensored. The paper suggested the images were like rare baseball cards. “Every true fan of the Croatia national team will want them,” they said.
The players didn’t think that was very funny. “How would you feel if someone took naked pictures of you?” said Niko Kovac, the Croatia coach.
The team have implemented a media black-out ahead of their crucial game against Cameroon on Wednesday. “I can’t force them to be at your disposal after what you have done to them and their families,” Kovac said.
The players have decided to tackle the newspapers in the only way that they can. None of them will talk to the press, leaving the Croatian media struggling to fill the acres of build-up coverage expected by the demanding European audience.
Kovac said he had no desire to force his players to co-operate. “They are adamant that they won’t speak to you lot any more and I don’t know whether the silence will end tomorrow or last until the end of our World Cup campaign,” he said.
“I respect my players’ opinion and I also know that you have done a very professional job so far but you blew it with this one. The whole world has seen the photos.”
A surreptitious photograph of Zinedine Zidane, one of France’s all-time great players, smoking a cigarette during the 2006 World Cup started a similar row over player privacy, but this is the first time the paparazzi have snuck onto private property to spy on a team in the nude.