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The Croatia national football team (Croatian: Hrvatska nogometna reprezentacija) represents Croatia in international football. The team is controlled by the Croatian Football Federation, the governing body for football in the country. A FIFA-recognised national side had previously represented the short-lived Banovina of Croatia and Independent State of Croatia in nineteen friendly matches between 1940 and 1944. This team was dissolved in 1945 as Croatia became a constituent federal republic of SFR Yugoslavia. In the period between 1945 and 1990, Croatia did not field a separate team for competitive matches and Croatian players played for the Yugoslavia national football team.

The modern Croatian team was formed in 1990, shortly before Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia, and by 1993 had gained membership inFIFA and UEFA. The team played their first competitive matches in the successful qualifying campaign for UEFA Euro 1996, leading to their first appearance at a major tournament. In Croatia's FIFA World Cup debut in 1998 the team finished third and provided the tournament's top scorer, Davor Šuker.

Most home matches are played at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, with some fixtures also taking place at the Poljud Stadium in Split or at other, smaller venues, such as Kantrida Stadium in Rijeka or Gradski Vrt in Osijek. The team was undefeated in its first 36 home competitive matches at Maksimir, the run ending with a defeat to England in September 2008. The team's traditional nickname is Vatreni ("The Blazers").

The team was named FIFA's "Best Mover of the Year" in 1994 and 1998, the only team along with Colombia to win the award more than once. On admission to FIFA, Croatia was ranked 125th in the world; following the 1998 World Cup campaign, the side rose to third place in the rankings, making it the most volatile team in FIFA Rankings history

History Edit

Pre-independence Edit

Association football was first introduced to Croatia by English expatriates working on industrial projects in Rijeka and Županja in 1873. By 1907 local clubs had been established in Croatia and a modern edition of the sport's laws was translated and published. Before the nation's independence, Croatian footballers played for the national teams of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1919–39) and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–90), though during periods of political upheaval, ethnically Croatian sides occasionally formed to play unofficial matches. A hastily arranged Croatian side, managed by Hugo Kinert, played a few matches in 1918–19.

In 1940, Jozo Jakopić led an unofficial national team representing the Banovina of Croatia (part of Kingdom of Yugoslavia) in four friendly matches, against Switzerland and Hungary. Following invasion by the Axis powers, the Croatian Football Federation became briefly active, joining FIFA on 17 July 1941, representing the Independent State of Croatia. The side, led by Rudolf Hitrec, went on to play fifteen friendly matches, fourteen of which as a member of FIFA. Croatia's first recorded result as a FIFA member was a 1–1 tie with Slovakia on 8 September in Bratislava. The Independent State of Croatia continued playing matches until 1945 and the end of World War II, when SR Croatia was formed as constituent part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

From 1950 to 1956 unofficial Croatian teams were briefly active; they won games against Indonesia and a Yugoslav team playing as "Serbia". The Yugoslavia squad at the 1956 Summer Olympics included Croatian footballers, as did Yugoslavia in World Cup and European Championship tournaments up to 1990.

Official formation(1990-1994) Edit

The last Yugoslav team to field a considerable Croatian contingent played against Sweden on 16 May 1991, days before Croatia's independence referendum. However, an unofficial Croatian team was formed shortly before, and played the team's first modern international game, against the United States on 17 October 1990 at Maksimir Stadium. The game, which Croatia won 2-1, was one of three games played under caretaker manager Dražen Jerković. The match against the American side also marked the introduction of Croatia's national jersey, inspired by the chequered design of the country's coat of arms. Although Croatia was still officially part of Yugoslavia until its independence decleration on 8 October 1991, the team already server as a de facto national team.

Croatia won two more friendly games more under Jerković(against Romania in December 1990 and against Slovenia in June 1991) before he was replaced by Stanko Poklepović who took the team on a tour to Australia in July 1992 where they played three matches against Australia in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. Since Croatia was re-admitted to FIFA(but not yet UEFA) on 3 July 1992, the matches under Poklepović are the first ones recognized as official by FIFA.

In April 1993 Vlatko Marković was appointed as the team's first permanent manager, in anticipation of UEFA membership, which would allow Croatia to compete in Euro and World Cup qualifiers organised by UEFA. In June 1993 Croatia was finally admitted to UEFA, which was too late for the team to enter 1994 World Cup qualifiers as these had started in August 1992. Marković only led the team in one match, a home win against Ukraine in June 1993, before being sacked in February 1994 and replaced by Miroslav Blažević the following month.

The team's performances before Croatia's official independence were not recorded by FIFA, so they entered the World Rankings in 125th place. Blažević lead the team's qualifying campaign for Euro 1996, beginning with Croatia's first post independence competitive victory, a 2-0 win over Estonia on 4 September 1994. Their first competitive defeat came on 11 June 1995, with a 1-0 away loss to Ukraine during the same qualifying campaign. They finished on top of their qualifying group and won FIFA's 1994 Best Mover of the Year award as they moved up to 62nd place in December 1994.

Golden Generation(1994-2000) Edit

Goran Vlaović scored the team's first goal at a major tournament, a late winner against Turkey at the City Ground in Nottingham in their first group match at Euro 96. After their opening victory, Croatia beat reigning champions Denmark 3-0, but went on to lose 0-3 to Portugal in their final group fixture. Croatia still advanced to the knockout stage, but were beaten in the quarter-finals 1-2 by Germany who went on to win the tournament.

In spite of the quarter-final exit, Blažević continued to lead Croatia in the following 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, which ended successfully with victory over Ukraine in the two-legged play-off. In the group stage of the World Cup, Croatia beat Jamaica and Japan but lost to Argentina, before defeating Romania to reach a quarter-final tie against Germany, then ranked second in the world. Though regarded as underdogs, Croatia won 3-0, with goals from Robert Jarni, Goran Vlaović and Davor Šuker.

Croatia then faced the host nation, France, in the semi-final: after a goalless first-half, Croatia took the lead, only to concede two goals by opposing defender Lilian Thuram and lose 1-2. In the third-place match Croatia beat the Netherlands 2-1, with Davor Šuker winning the Golden Boot award for tournament's best scorer with six goals in seven games. Croatia's performance in 1998 was among the best debut performances in the World Cup, and as a result Croatia rose to number three in the January 1999 FIFA World Rankings. For their achievements the team of the 1990s was dubbed the "Golden Generation".

Croatia's third qualifiers proved to be the most successful as they finisher first in their Euro 2000 qualifying group with 20 points. First fixture against archenemies FR Yugoslavia ended in draw. Alen Bokšić scored the equalizer. In Zagreb Croatia beat Yugoslavia 2-1.

Before Euro 2000, the bronze captain Zvonimir Boban and Slaven Bilić retired from international football. It was a huge blow for Croatia team. In the group stage of the Euro 2000 all Croatia matches ended in draw. They finished third with three points, one point behind Slovakia and two points behind Georgia. After the tournament, Dražen Ladić and Aljoša Asanović retired from international football. This is considered as the end of the Golden Generation.

Jozić period(2000-present) Edit

Blažević continued his tenure as Croatian manager, he resigned in October 2000 following draws against Belgium and Scotland in the first two games of the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. His successor at the helm of the national team was Mirko Jozić, an experienced manager who had led Yugoslavia under-20 team to World Cup triumph in 1987. Despite the retirement of many Golden Generation players, Croatia went unbeaten during the rest of the qualifiers. Jozić created a mix of bronze generation players and newcomers. Croatia beat Belgium 1-0 to qualify for the 17th FIFA World Cup held in South Korea and Japan.

Colours Edit

Croatia's initial jersey was designed in 1990 by painter Miroslav Šutej, who also designed the nation's coat of arms. Although slightly altered by manufacturer Lotto (the 1998 jersey was a white jersey with the chequers on the right side, like a flying flag) and Nike since its original release, the chequered motif was adopted as a symbol of national identity and similar designs are used by all Croatian national sports teams.

Kit History Edit

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Stadium Edit

Most home matches take place at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb. The venue, built 1912 and refurbished in 1997, is named after the surrounding neighbourhood of Maksimir. The stadium has hosted national games since Croatia's competitive home debut against Lithuania. The football federation and the Croatian government have agreed further improvements (among them an increase in the current forty-thousand seating capacity) that would make Maksimir the most expensive football stadium in the world.

Home matches were occasionally played at other venues. The Poljud Stadium in Split hosted several qualifying fixtures for Euro 1996 and the 1998 World Cup. Ever since the first match in 1995 against Italy which ended 1-1, Croatia is unable to win an official FIFA-recognised match at Poljud. That fact is known amongst the Croatian public as "Poljud curse". The team also played qualifying matches at Stadion Kantrida in Rijeka, which they are unbeaten at, the Gradski vrt stadium in Osijek and the Stadion Anđelko Herjavec stadium in Varaždin.

Competitive record Edit

FIFA World Cup Edit

Croatia qualified for and competed in two consecutive World Cup finals between 1998 and 2002. Though they had joined both FIFA and UEFA by 1992, they were unable to enter the 1994 World Cup as qualification had started before the side was officially recognised. The nation's best performance came in their second World Cup where they finished first. In their first World Cup they finished third.

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