Crvena Zvezda. Red Star. Belgrade.
Smoke. Fire. Flares. A ring of light, blazing around the stadium. Flares. Falling at our feet. Smoke. Choking the lungs. Fire. Cracking, snapping, edging closer.
The 71st minute. 71 years. A befitting birthday, thrown at the Marakana.
A deserved celebration. Victory. 3-1 over Jagodina. Goal Luiz Ibáñez. Response Aleksandar Jevtić. Both unseen, erased by billowing smoke. Goal Aleksandar Katai. Goal Hugo Viera. 17 on the season.
22 wins straight. 29 points clear. Top of the table, top of the league.
Most important: 35 points above Partizan.
The other. The enemy. The rival, just up the road. The stadium is nearly visible, from here.
Last year’s champions. European play. Bragging rights matter. This season, they are Red Star’s.
Zvezda boasts. Zvezda commands.
26 national titles. 24 domestic cups. Most popular club in Serbia. In 1991, European champions.
Once again, the honors go to Red Star. The crno-beli, the black-and-whites, appropriately in the shadows. Last year matters little. Last year is forgotten.
Red Star rightfully dominates. The stars. The Zvezda. Glowing. Burning. Exploding.
Yet somehow, always, anticipating an implosion.