Those were the times of ‘skinny cows’; people were tightening the belts on their paints, and collecting and selling empty bottles in order to earn a buck for the Club – this is a quote from the book Three Decades of the Kvarner Riviera (“Tri desetljeća Kvarnerske rivijere”). Despite all the difficulties and hardships the tournament has gone through over the years, it still is going strong – in the Kvarner Gulf, where, year after year, the oldest football tournament in Croatia is held.
Maybe it does not have the prestige it had twenty or thirty years ago when, on local football fields, players that have marked the football eras of their countries (such as Dino Zoff, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner, Zvonimir Boban, or Davor Šuker) played. However, the tournament lives with the same zeal of all the people who, during more than six decades, built a part of themselves in the Kvarner Riviera and made it one of the oldest and best junior tournaments in Europe.
One of the most well known names for whom Kvarnerska Rivijera served as a stepping-stone for his further career was Dino Zoff, a legendary Italian goalkeeper.
The idea of an international youth tournament was born during a match between Rijeka’s juniors and OFK Beograd that was played after the Belgrade players came back from a tournament in Bellinzona. Although burdened with many problems, a group of enthusiasts led by the ‘alpha and omega’ of Rijeka’s club Milan Blažević, organized the first Kvarnerska Rivijera which started on June 17, 1953. The first international team that arrived at the tournament was 1860 Munich and the first winner was Hajduk from Split. Kvarnerska Rivijera, after Bellinzona and Viareggio Tournaments, became the third oldest tournament for this age group, and soon enough one of the best in Europe.
In its first edition, Rivijera consisted of 16 teams who played in the group stages on the football fields in Opatija and Rijeka (Kantrida, Krimeja, Omladinsko). They played in a competition that had a different format than today’s version of the competition, since they played by the cup system from the very first round. The format changed the following year. The two first-place teams entered a knockout stage. This competition system lasted until the 70s when there were attempts to make the tournament larger. In 1972 and from 1976 to 1980 Kvarnerska Rivijera consisted of 32 teams divided into eight groups. In 1985 and 2002, there were 24 teams divided into six groups, while in all other years, the current format of 16 teams divided into four groups was utilized.
Despite numerous competition systems and many highs and lows, Kvarnerska Rivijera remained a stepping stone for juniors who will move up the ranks. One of the most well known names for whom Kvarnerska Rivijera served as a stepping-stone for his further career was Dino Zoff, a legendary Italian goalkeeper. He played in the Kvarnerska Rivijera tournament as a player of Udinese 20 years before he won the World Cup title in Spain as the captain of ‘Gli Azzurri’. Other well known names include Dražen Ladić, Aljoša Asanović, Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker, Robert Prosinečki, Slaven Bilić, and Igor Štimac. They were part of this tournament ten years before winning third place in the FIFA World Cup in France.
Almost from its inception, Kvarnerska Rivijera meant an end of one playing period for players moving from junior to senior football. According to current standards, this boundary is slightly lower – since its 63th edition, the age limit for players who have a right to compete was lowered by two years. Therefore, instead of juniors who will become seniors, the tournament is held for the cadets who will move up the ranks.