Croatia itself has not had a separate footballing team representing them until as recent as twenty years ago. Since the 1940s, when small Croatian states were represented in friendly matches, all Croatian born players represented the Yugoslavian national side. It was not until 1991, just before Croatia gained full independence from Yugoslavia, that a fully fledged Croatian national football team was formed. They managed to quickly gain membership of both UEFA and FIFA. Their first ever competitive fixtures were in the qualification campaign for the 1996 European Championships, which they reached. Their first ever victory as an independent country was a 2-0 triumph against Estonia in September 1994. Their Euro 1996 campaign was a surprisingly successful one, with outstanding victories over champions Denmark and Turkey in the group sending them to the quarter finals, where eventual winners Germany ended their hopes.
Croatia then reached the 1998 World Cup in France and had a superb campaign, qualifying from their group and defeating Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals, before losing out to France in the semi finals. As a result of their progress Croatia achieved 3rd in the FIFA World rankings in 1999. Croatia then didn’t qualify for another major finals until Euro 2004, where they were knocked out of a group containing France, England and Switzerland. They then failed to advance from their group at the 2006 World Cup, and crashed out on penalties in dramatic fashion against Turkey in the Euro 2008 quarter finals, despite impressing in their group. They then narrowly missed out on the quarter finals at Euro 2012, although showed determination in their matches against Ireland, Italy and Spain, from which they gained four points.
Road to Brazil
Although Belgium comfortably won the qualification group, Croatia produced some strong and spirited performances to finish in the play-off spot in second, 9 points behind the Belgians. Impressive results included a 2-0 win at home over Serbia and a hard fought 1-1 draw away to Belgium. However, the losses against Scotland proved costly as the Croats faced a two-legged play-off against rookies Iceland. Despite a nervy 0-0 draw in Reykjavik, Croatia won 2-0 in Zagreb to seal their place in Brazil.
Croatia are known for their technical ability and skill in possession. They have a potent mix of youth and experience and some classy creative flair players. Luka Modric is undoubtedly Croatia’s star man. His range of passing and class in possession is one of the world’s best, and his magnificent year for Real Madrid shows he merits the praise he receives. Highly rated midfielders Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic have also had marvellous seasons with their clubs and offer a further inventive dynamic.
Up front, Mario Mandzukic is not only experienced with Bayern Munich but also a lethal finisher, whilst Nikica Jelavic plays at the top level in England. Eduardo Da Silva is a goal poacher while Ivica Olic’s industry and graft could be a decent weapon for Croatia to have on the bench.
Croatia have the quality to take on their group, and take part in the opening game of the tournament against hosts Brazil.
Brazil themselves, especially on the opening day with the vibrant home support, will likely prove too much for Croatia to handle. Brazil’s offensive swagger is likely to open up Croatia’s often shaky back line.
However, against Mexico and Cameroon, Croatia should be confident of trying to get a result. Naivety has often been Croatia’s downfall, and Cameroon often prove to be a stern test at major tournaments. Mexico will not be pushovers, either – they have a strong team dynamic and have previous in this sort of scenario.
Croatia could surprise a few in Brazil, but they could just as easily underwhelm. They have plenty of attacking class and zest running through their side, but a gung-ho approach could result in some easy pickings for the likes of Brazil. In truth, second in the group is a definite possibility, but they have just as much of a chance as Mexico and Cameroon. They have to defend stoutly but also utilise their strengths to their advantage. If they do that, then progress to the last 16 is a very big prospect indeed.