WORLD CUP : Team profile – croatia (group f)

Croatia reached their third successive FIFA World Cup finals by finishing top of European qualifying Group 8, undefeated and with seven wins recorded in ten matches.

The most notable of these victories came against Sweden, their main rivals in the section who achieved the same points total but lost home and away to Zlatko Kranjcar’s side.

It was a 1-0 success in Gothenburg on September 8, 2004 that confirmed the extent of Croatia’s ambitions, Darijo Srna’s goal giving momentum to a campaign which had opened three days earlier with a 3-0 defeat of Hungary.

Despite losing a two-goal lead in the subsequent home draw with Bulgaria, four

consecutive victories between March and June 2005 sustained their push until a

second hiccup came in the form of a 1-1 draw in Malta.

Croatia now had to beat the Swedes a second time to reclaim first place in the group and a repeat performance from Srna in Zagreb on 8 October ensured they did just that.

Despite only gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and joining FIFA the following year, the Croatians already have considerable pedigree in the international arena.

As teenagers Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki,

Davor Suker, Robert Jarni and Igor Stimac played their part in Yugoslavia’s capture of the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1987, and this talented generation of players were in their prime eleven years later when Croatia played at their first World Cup finals in France. The result was a thrilling run to the semi-finals, which included a 3-0 quarter-final victory over

Germany before France beat Miroslav Blazevic’s side in the semi-finals.

There was some consolation with a 2-1 win against the Netherlands in the play-off for third place, where Suker struck his seventh goal of the finals to secure the Golden Shoe.

Four years later, the Croatians’ second finals adventure was not so successful, apart from a victory against Italy little else went right in Korea/Japan 2002 where Mirko Jozic’s side lost to Mexico and Ecuador and went home early.