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Croatia

Population: 4,300,000
Area: 56,538 km²
Capital: Zagreb
Language: Croatian, Serbian

 
THE ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
Croatia remained undefeated in the UEFA group 6 and beat Belgium by a single point to win the group.
Click here for details

 
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Participations: (1) 1998
Best placing: Third place 1998
Topscorers: Davor Suker, 6 goals
More detailed history information

 
FIRST ROUND MATCHES
Jun 03 - CRO v MEX  in Niigata
Jun 08 - CRO v ITA  in Ibaraki
Jun 13 - CRO v ECU  in Yokohama

 
ONE TO WATCH
Davor Suker, now 34, was topscorer of the last World Cup, but is not considered likely to repeat that feat this summer. On the other side, it's dangerous to write off old goalscoring heroes. They might blossom on the big occasion.

 
WCA VERDICT: Through to KO stage
The race is tough behind Italy for that other qualification spot for the second round, but Croatia seem to have the tiny edge in front of Ecuador and Mexico. The bronzemedalists from four years ago are still capable of advancing despite ageing stars. New talents have emerged since 1998 and we believe they will show teeth in this World Cup.



OLD HEROES ARE BACK AGAIN


by Paul Marcuccitti


    Croatia's players and supporters would be delighted if their team can come close to replicating its excellent performance of four years ago. Many of the stars of 1998 look set to feature again: the speedy Robert Jarni; Chelsea midfielder/forward, Mario Stanic; the reliable Zvonimir Soldo; and strikers Goran Vlaovic and Davor Suker.

    Add in the likes of Juventus' Igor Tudor - an up and coming player at France 98 but now a highly accomplished defender - and Alen Boksic, who was sadly missing four years ago, and you have a team which appears to have genuine ambitions to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.

    On the debit side, a number of the players that Croatia will be relying on are at the latter end of their careers. Jarni, Suker, Boksic and Robert Prosinecki (now playing in England at Division One Portsmouth) are now in their 30s and Stanic and Vlaovic turn 30 this year.

    Croatia also goes into this World Cup without legendary coach, Miroslav Blazevic. But thus far, his replacement Mirko Jozic - a former youth coach of Yugoslavia - has guided the team admirably. The Croats qualified impressively and he will be aware that the biggest test of his career awaits him.

    Is this Croatian team past its peak? Or will the experience of the older players prove advantageous?

    Croatia's performance in the qualifiers would suggest the latter. Despite a slow start and having Belgium and Scotland - two far from negligible teams - for company, the Croats won their group. In the process, they went through their eight games undefeated and conceded only two goals. Striker Bosko Balaban was his country's top scorer with five goals (including a hat-trick against Latvia) and it was Boksic who scored the winner in the decisive final group match against Belgium.

    The draw hasn't been too unkind to the Croats. Though they were unlucky not to be seeded and have the Italians to contend with in Group G, they will (at the very least) see a route past Ecuador and Mexico. If Croatia advances, its Round of 16 game will be against a team from Group D (South Korea/Portugal/Poland/USA).

    Most pundits would consider that a quarter-final appearance - or better - would represent an excellent result for this team. The Croats would certainly be disappointed if they flew out on the first plane home.

    If any combination of Vlaovic, Balaban, Boksic and Suker can find the back of the net, Croatia can be confident that its excellent defensive players (like Jarni, Soldo and Tudor) will put up stiff resistance to opposing teams.

    Croatia's main weakness could be an over reliance on midfielder, Robert Prosinecki. There is no doubt that he is a very gifted player and that he has plenty of experience (he even played for Yugoslavia in the 1990 finals in Italy). Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and advancing years have taken their toll on the creative playmaker.

    Coach, Mirko Jozic, has admitted that his midfield depends on Prosinecki and that he's looking for alternatives. He has floated the idea of dropping Suker into the midfield and Lecce's Davor Vugrinec could be another option.

    So the goal scorers are there and the defence looks sound. The biggest question seems to be whether or not Croatia has enough creativity in its midfield. If the team struggles in that department, there could be added pressure on Jarni and co to push forward.

    Croatia's supporters can feel confident that Jozic, a real team builder, will find the best combination. He is an experienced coach who has had international success at youth level and he also had a distinguished spell at club level in South America. Jozic is a realist and he will know that a repeat semi-final showing may be beyond his team.

But it won't stop him trying.



A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY

by Jan Alsos


    Croatia’s World Cup history is short, but successful. Their only finals appearance in 1998 brought bronzemedals including wins over such powerful countries as Germany and Holland. No one doubted their qualities before the World Cup, but a semifinal place exceeded all expectations. Davor Suker ended up as topscorer of the tournament, but Prosinecki, Boban and Jarni also had some great weeks in France.
 

 

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