Croatia National Football Team History
Croatian players participated in international soccer for Yugoslavia for much of the 20th century. The Croatia national football team played their first modern game pre-independence in 1990, which was a 2-1 win over the USA. Croatia declared its independence in June 1991, and the national team was admitted as a FIFA member in 1992.
Failing to receive admission to UEFA until 1993, Croatia were ineligible to take part in 1994 World Cup qualifying. On their first try, Croatia qualified for the 1996 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup.
At Euro ‘96, Croatia made the quarterfinals but were eliminated by eventual champions Germany. The first Croatia FIFA World Cup appearance, two years later, was a huge success.
The Vatreni won their first-ever World Cup match by a 3-1 scoreline over Jamaica. Davor Suker scored for a second consecutive match, as Croatia defeated Japan 1-0. With the win, Croatia national football team sealed its knockout stage qualification with a game to go. Argentina defeated Croatia 1-0 in the group stage finale, which set up a Croatia against Romania in a round-of-16 matchup.
Suker once again scored the winning goal, on a penalty, and the Croatia national football team were on quarterfinals. There, Croatia scored a massive 3-0 win over European champions Germany to make their first semifinals appearance. The Vatreni took the lead through Suker against France, but Lilian Thuram’s double sent Les Bleus to the final.
Impressively, the Croatia national football team won the third-place playoff against the Netherlands and got a bronze medal in their first-ever World Cup appearance. Davor Suker finished as the tournament’s top scorer, with six goals.
The Vatreni missed out on the 2000 Euros but reached the World Cup once again in 2002. The Croatians got a huge win over Italy but lost to both Mexico and Ecuador for their first group-stage elimination.
Croatia made Euro 2004 after defeating England twice in qualifiers but failed to make it out of the group stage. They had the same problem at the World Cup in 2006, since it was the first time Croatia didn’t win a match in the tournament.
At Euro 2008, Croatia won all three of their group-stage matches at a major tournament for the first time but fell to Turkey in the quarterfinals. Croatia then missed out on the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first time in their history they failed to qualify for it.
Croatia returned four years later but suffered another group stage exit. In the process, they did manage a dominant 4-0 win versus Cameroon. The Vatreni made the round of 16 at Euro 2016 and were labeled as Croatia’s second Golden Generation in the lead up to the 2018 World Cup.
With players like Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia put on an excellent show at the 2018 World Cup. Croatia made their first-ever final, where they fell 4-2 to France. Modric was voted as the tournament’s Best Player.
The Croatia national football team won just two of their eight matches in 2020 but even so managed to make Qatar 2022.
- Davor Suker – Goals: 45
- Mario Mandzukic – Goals: 33
- Ivan Perisic – Goals: 32
- Eduardo da Silva – Goals: 29
- Darijo Srna – Goals: 22
Croatia Soccer Leagues & Clubs:
The Super Sport HNL, or just HNL, is the top-tier Croatian soccer league. Apart from the national team, it’s the most popular method of Croatia soccer betting. There are only ten clubs in the league, which was established in 1992.
The number of teams has by no means been constant over the course of the history of the league; at one point, there were 18 teams. Currently, each team plays every other team four times: twice at home and twice away. At the end of the season, the last-place team is relegated to the second division. Meanwhile, first place earns a spot in Champions League qualifiers.
The Croatian second division is confusingly named the Croatian First Football League. It’s more commonly referred to as the Prva NL. Until 2022, the league had 16 clubs but is down to 12 ahead of the 2022-23 season. Each team plays one another three times over the course of the season. The top team at the end of the season is promoted to the HNL. Meanwhile, the last-place team is relegated to the Second Football League, and the second-to-last team contests a relegation playoff.
Croatian Cups & Tournaments
A hodgepodge of Croatia’s soccer teams participates in the annual Croatian Football Cup. There are 48 entrants, 16 of which are the highest-ranked teams in the country according to their cup performances in the last five years. The next 21 teams are the winners of the cups in each of Croatia’s counties. A total of 11 finalists in those regional cups qualify based on the number of active football clubs registered in the county.
The tournament used to employ two-legged fixtures but is now single elimination. The 16 top-ranked teams enter the tournament in the first round, while the other 32 start off in the preliminary round. With 16 titles, Dinamo Zagreb are the most successful team in the history of the competition.
Croatia Soccer Betting Information
The HNL has been dominated by just a few clubs throughout its history. Dinamo Zagreb have won 23 of a possible 31 championships so far. Thus, Dinamo Zagreb are quite a popular pick for HNL Croatia soccer betting. Hajduk Split have won six championships, while Rijeka and NK Zagreb have one title each. Heading into the 2022-23 season, Dinamo Zagreb are five time defending champions.
Despite Dinamo’s dominance, the level of play in the Croatian top flight is not all bad. In UEFA’s country coefficients, Croatian clubs are ranked 19th, behind Denmark and ahead of Turkey. Due to only one team getting relegated each season, though, there remains a consistent large gap in quality between the top three or four teams and the bottom three or four. In the 2021-22 season, fourth place and eighth place were separated by 29 points.
During that season, 54 percent of matches ended with both teams scoring. Outside of the top three sides, clean sheets were very uncommon. Matches ended in draws 24 percent of the time. There is certainly a big disparity in the home and away win percentages as well.
Croatia have been a massive success story since gaining their independence. What they’ve achieved as a small country is exemplary. Of course, they finished as runners-up in the 2018 World Cup and will be participating in Qatar 2022. Most betting tips suggest that they’ll advance to the knockout stage once again. They’re priced at -170 odds to qualify from a Group F with Belgium, Canada, and Morocco also in it.
Despite losing Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic to international retirement, a lot of Croatia’s stars will be back for the 2022 World Cup. Coach Zlatko Dalic is still around as well. Midfielder and former Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric is aging like fine wine. There are also some interesting young talents to watch out for, like Josko Gvardiol and Luka Sucic.
Croatia’s form heading into the World Cup has been good, which is certainly a positive sign. They won their last four matches in the UEFA Nations League to win Group A and advance to the semifinals. That includes a win over France, two wins over Denmark, and another over Austria. All of those are World Cup caliber teams.
Croatia’s most recent appearance at a major tournament was at last year’s Euros. They won just one of their four matches but did manage to reach the round of 16.
The midfield is the strongest area of the team, with players like Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic. Since Mandzukic retired, Croatia have lacked a prolific striker. Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric will likely be counted on to provide goals.
There have been some excellent Croatian soccer players over the years and the national team has punched well above its weight. Croatia have been one of the best teams in the world for the last few years. The expectation is not for Vatreni to return to the World Cup final. However, anything less than a knockout stage appearance would be a huge disappointment for them. Betting on Croatia is likely to be popular, especially in group stage matches against Morocco and Canada.
The Croatian HNL isn’t exactly one of the most followed leagues in Europe. That could mean well-informed bettors could do well betting on it. In European competition, Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split have also made their fair share of appearances over the years.
As Croatia continues to produce exciting talents, the profile of the domestic league could rise. After all, both the country and the league are just 30 years old.