AHEAD OF IRELAND’S friendly tonight, we thought we’d take an in-depth look at their opponents, Croatia.
We thus examine the incredible impact they’ve had on the international football scene so far, despite only existing as an independent nation for a brief period…
History: Having previously been part of Yugoslavia, Croatia played their first game of international football just prior to gaining independence in 1990. In 1993, they were granted membership in FIFA and UEFA, and were consequently eligible to compete in the qualifying stages for Euro 96.
The team have enjoyed significant success in their brief history competing in international football, including a third place finish in the 1998 World Cup, coupled with two quarter-final finishes in the 1996 and 2008 European Championships. They have the distinction of being named “best mover of the year” in both 1994 and 1998, an award given to the team that have jumped up the most places in the FIFA Rankings over the course of a year.
In addition, they had never lost a competitive home match in 36 games, before England finally beat them in 2008.
Famous past players: Davor Suker was the overall top scorer at the 1998 World Cup and is the only Croatian on the FIFA list of the 125 greatest players footballers of all time (selected by Pele in 2004).
Zvonimir Boban also enjoyed a distinguished career, with the creative midfielder playing for AC Milan among others, and captaining his team at Euro 96 – their first-ever international tournament.
Portsmouth fans will recall Robert Prosinecki during his brief-but-memorable stint at the club, while he also enjoyed spells at Barcelona and Real Madrid, joining the likes of Ronaldo and Luis Figo in being one of the few players to have played for both clubs.
Famous current players: Luka Modric is undoubtedly the standout name in the Croatia team. He was one of the best players in the Premier League last year and his ability to dictate the tempo of a match means he is arguably the current side’s most important player.
Despite struggling to get into the Tottenham side of late, Niko Kranjcar is another player who can cause damage to opposition defences. He had a hugely successful start to his Tottenham career and had the most assists in relation to minutes on the field of any Premier League player in the 2009/2010 season.
Eduardo looked hugely impressive at Arsenal as a youngster, before a well-documented horror tackle resulted in a long period on the treatment table and significantly curtailed his development.
Current international standing: Despite a relatively successful Euro 2008 campaign, Croatia disappointingly failed to qualify for the last World Cup, partly due to key players suffering injuries before crucial matches. Slaven Bilic, however, has continued on as manager for the current campaign, despite calls for his resignation.
Their qualifying situation is not dissimilar to Ireland’s, as they are currently joint second in Group F – a point behind Greece and level with Israel, who have played one more game than their rivals.