Croatia will be taking a step into the unknown when they tackle France in Sunday’s World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Zlatko Dalic’s side beat England 2-1 in Wednesday’s semi-final to book a place in the showpiece for the first time.
Here, Football Paradise looks back at Croatia’s defeat against France 20 years ago, in the semi-finals, until now the furthest they had progressed in the tournament.
After finishing second to Argentina in Group H following victories over Jamaica and Japan, World Cup debutants Croatia claimed some impressive scalps on their way to the semi-finals. Davor Suker’s penalty edged Croatia past Romania in the last 16 before a thumping 3-0 victory over Germany in the quarter-finals – with Suker again on the scoresheet – saw them book a meeting with hosts France in the semis. They were just 44 minutes away from reaching the final when Suker scored first early in the second half but a Lilian Thuram double won it for eventual champions France. There was a happy ending for Croatia, however, as they beat Holland 2-1 in the third-place play-off, with Suker scoring his sixth goal of the tournament to claim the Golden Boot.
With star names such as Zvonimir Boban, Suker, Robert Prosinecki and Alen Boksic among their ranks, it is hardly surprising that Croatia excelled in France. The contribution of Suker, who finished as the tournament’s top scorer, sticks in the memory but he was not the only one to impress. Defender Slaven Bilic and wing-back Robert Jarni also starred, with the latter opening the scoring in the victory over Germany.
After beginning his coaching career at the age of 28 with FC Vevey in Switzerland, Miroslav Blazevic managed several clubs, most notably Dinamo Zagreb, before taking the Croatia helm in 1994. Known for his man-management skills, Blazevic inspired Croatia to the knockout stages of Euro 96, where they were beaten by eventual winners Germany, before going even further two years later. Blazevic parted company with Croatia in 2000 before going on to manage the likes of Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Shanghai Shenhua, among many other teams.
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