Croatia FIFA World Cup: The Croatia national football team represents Croatia in international football and is manage by the Croatian Football Federation (HNS). As members of UEFA and FIFA, the team participates in both European and global competitions. The team’s colors reflect two national symbols the Croatian checkerboard and the national tricolour. They are popularly known as the Vatreni (Blazers) and Kockasti.

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Since 1994, the Vatreni have qualified for every major tournament except UEFA Euro 2000 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In the World Cup, Croatia has achieved notable success, finishing second in 2018 and third in 1998 and 2022, earning three World Cup medals. Davor Suker won the Golden Shoe and Silver Ball in 1998, while Luka Modric claimed the Golden Ball in 2018 and the Bronze Ball in 2022.

This rapid rise marked the fastest and most volatile ascent in FIFA ranking history, making Croatia the youngest team to reach the Top 10. Croatia is the second-smallest country by population (after Uruguay) and land mass (after the Netherlands) to reach a World Cup final. The team holds World Cup records for the most penalty shootouts played (4) and won (4) and most penalties saved in a shootout (3).

The Rise of the Vatreni: Croatia’s Journey in International Football

They were name FIFA Best Mover of the Year in 1994 and 1998, becoming the first national team to win the award twice and equalling joint records with France and Colombia. The early history of Croatian football was mark by various unofficial teams, as Croatia was not an independent country until the late 20th century. Hugo Kinert managed an unofficial Croatian side that played international matches in 1918–19.

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FIFA World Cup Tickets | The Rise of the Vatreni: Croatia’s Journey in International Football |

In 1945, Croatia returned to Yugoslavia as the People’s Republic of Croatia, with sides active until 1956. During this pre-independence period, Croatian footballers played for Yugoslavia in the Summer Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, and the UEFA European Championship from 1956 to 1990. Notably, between 1940 and 1944, Croatia was rank 7th (1940), 8th (1941), and 10th (1942, 1943, and 1944) by World Football Elo Ratings.

Croatia debuted their modern checkered jersey against the United States on October 17, 1990, winning 2–1. Under caretaker manager Drazan Jerkovic, the de facto national side won two more friendly games against Romania in December 1990 and Slovenia in June 1991 before their formal re-admission into FIFA on July 3, 1992. Stanko Poklepovic then took over team management and led them on an exhibition tour against Australia, before being succeed by Vlatko Markovic in April 1993.

Croatia’s Remarkable World Cup Journey Achievements and Records

Croatia gained admission into UEFA in June 1993, three months after qualification for the 1994 World Cup had started, missing their opportunity to enter the competition. After a victory against Ukraine in June 1993, Markovic was succeed by Miroslav Blazevic in March 1994. The team entered the inaugural 2018–19 Nations League in League A, alongside England and Spain. Croatia suffered a 6–0 away defeat to Spain in their first game, marking the team’s record loss.

They then drew 0–0 at home with England, a match played behind closed doors due to UEFA sanctions. Croatia later secured a dramatic 3–2 victory over Spain with a stoppage-time goal. But faced a 2–1 away defeat to England. Initially set for relegation to League B. A rule change allow them to remain in League A, where they were group with Portugal, France. And Sweden in the 2020–21 tournament. Despite losses to France and Portugal, a single victory against Sweden was enough to avoid relegation.

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Croatia topped their group in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. Despite a loss to Hungary and draws against Azerbaijan and Wales. The 2020 finals were delay to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With only two wins in eight games in 2020, Croatia had their worst-ever aggregate win rate. They finished second in their Euro 2020 group, with a 1–0 loss to England. A 1–1 draw with the Czech Republic, and a 3–1 win over Scotland.

Croatia’s Football Legacy: From Early Beginnings to Modern Glory

In the round of 16, they lost to Spain 5–3 after extra time. The defeat led to increased criticism of Dalic and the team, with some fans calling for resignation. Dalic responded by introducing younger players for the remaining World Cup qualifiers in 2021.

Croatia qualified for the 2022 World Cup with one loss, two draws, and seven wins. They advanced from the group stage after a 0–0 draw with Morocco, a 4–1 win against Canada. And a 0–0 draw with Belgium, finishing ahead of Belgium by a single point. In the round of 16, they defeated Japan in a penalty shootout. With Dominik Livakovic saving three of four Japanese penalties.

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Croatia then beat Brazil in the quarter-finals on penalties. Coming from behind to draw 1–1 in the final minutes of extra time. In the semi-finals, they suffered a 3–0 defeat to Argentina, their heaviest World Cup loss. Croatia secured their second bronze medal by winning 2–1 over Morocco in the third-place playoff.

In the 2023 Nations League, Croatia topped their group. And defeat reigning champions France 1–0 with a penalty. Their first-ever win against the French. They then beat the Netherlands 4–2 in the semi-finals, advancing to their first Nations League final against Spain. After a 0–0 draw in extra time, Croatia lost the penalty shootout 5–4, finishing as runners-up.

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