Croatia's defeat to Argentina in the 2022 World Cup semifinals was the end of Croatia's amazing journey in recent years, especially at the world cup title. In the last two editions of the world cup, Croatia has always been in the top four, even at the 2018 World Cup they became runner-up the grand tournament.
In the national football arena, Croatia is not a strong country and is not considered a football giant. Croatia always gets a label underdog because of their actual mediocre achievements. However, in recent years it seems that Croatia cannot be underestimated by looking at its achievements so far, even without a title.
Talking about the golden generation, at least Croatia has had their two golden periods. The first was during the 1998 World Cup and the second is the current generation. In fact, their golden generation is almost similar to the development principle of Belgian football with their golden generation.
The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) in building football starts from the nursery of young players. The emphasis is on what their creativity is in the field. They then embodied this into the early childhood group play system.
The concept is that when young children, for example the 12 year old group play a match, they will play on a smaller field with fewer players, starting from 6 against 6, 7 against 7, 8 against 8 and so on.
By playing on a smaller field, children are guided to develop their creativity on the field. This is proven by the many number 10 players in Croatia.
Vatroslav Mihacik, a Professor of football in Croatia said: “Our nickname is the European Brazil because of our style of play. Conditions in Croatia are much worse than in England where you have better facilities, better pitches, nutritionists and physiologists and so on. But we are creative. Creativity is a decisive factor in growing good players”.
However, in terms of infrastructure and football development they are still minimal. In fact, they tend not to have a clear vision and mission. Unlike the case with what is done Michael Sablon in Belgium or Japan with their 100 year Vision.
Presumably Croatian footballers are born genetically. Because so far they have only relied on one club, Dinamo Zagreb in player production. Because, only Zagreb has the best youth player academy development in Croatia.
Football As Identity
Croatia has a dark background and story when they started standing as a country. Often they are faced with all kinds of political, war and economic problems which make the situation there always unstable. Their legendary players, Boban and Modric, have also experienced such a war situation.
However, for most Croatian people, football is an important element in building a national identity. Even in the order of social life, football is at a higher level. They even make football as a unifying tool for the nation.
The first president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman said that football athletes are ambassadors of the country. Tudjman later became a contributor to Croatian football through his political channels off the field. Unlike the case with Boban who struggled through the field.
Of course Boban's phenomenal action was when he tried to protect a Dinamo Zagreb supporter named Bruno Sirok by kicking a policeman. The incident took place when Zagreb faced Red Star Belgrade at the Maksimir stadium, May 13 1990. At that time there was chaos between the Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo Zagreb) and Delije (Red Star Belgrade) supporters.
As a result of his behavior, Boban was suspended for 6 months and did not participate in the 1990 World Cup. However, Boban managed to prove his prowess on the field when he captained Croatia in the 1998 World Cup and led them to third place.
First Golden Generation
In Croatia's history at the World Cup, their best achievement was the 2018 World Cup which they won runner-up. But long before that, Croatia had a group of teams labeled as their first golden generation. Precisely at the 1998 World Cup.
At that time, Vatreni (Croatia's nickname) left for France as a debutant country in the world cup. They were reinforced by Zvonimir Boban, Robert Jarni, Mario Stanic, and Davor Suker. Under the tutelage of Miroslav Blazevic, they were joined in a group with Jamaica, Japan and Argentina.
They managed to escape with a score of two wins and one loss. Furthermore, in the round of 16 they managed to overthrow Romania with 1-0. In the quarter-finals, surprisingly they slaughtered Germany with a score of 3-0. This made them advance to the semifinals.
But unfortunately, in the semifinals they had to lose to French the host with a narrow score of 2-1. At the end of the tournament, it was France who ultimately won. But in the third place match, they managed to defeat Dutch with 2-1.
These results made Croatia a phenomenal debutant country by winning third place in the 1998 World Cup. One of the Croatian stars, Davor Suker, also won the top scorer title with his 6 goals scored during the tournament.
Second Golden Generation
Armed with their history in 1998, 20 years later they again did phenomenal things. At that time they were decorated with star-studded players like Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović, Ivan Perišić, Ivan Rakitic to Mario Mandzukic.
In the group phase they managed to wipe out all matches with 3 wins over Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland. During the round of 16, they managed to beat Denmark via penalties. In the quarter-finals, they also beat Russia on penalties. And in the semifinals they beat England in extra time.
But unfortunately, in the final they were defeated French 4-2. This makes them only content to occupy positions runner-up. However, this is a record for them. Because, this achievement was their most successful achievement since 1998 when they won third place.
Fast forward to the present, the 2022 World Cup is another place to prove them. Because, they were able to walk to the semifinals before finally being defeated by Argentina this morning.
With almost the same squad as the previous 4 years, they were able to advance from the group phase with a collection of one win over Canada and two draws over Morocco and Belgium.
In the round of 16, through their mainstay, namely penalty shoot-out, they managed to beat Japan. Similar to the previous round, in the quarter-finals they overthrew Brazil on penalties as well. But unfortunately, they had to lose to Argentina in the semifinals with a landslide score of 3-0.
The story is a fairy tale that will become legendary for the Croatian people. Even though they are relatively young as a result of the rupture Yugoslavia, they are able to prove to the world that they are a country to be reckoned with on the world stage.
Croatia's success in progressing until now is a combination of a dark background, the spirit of nationalism and the creativity of individual players. Croatia is not a mediocre country, they have inherited football talent Yugoslavia known as the Brazil of Europe.