In 1998, the Croatian national football team took part in the World Cup for the first time in France and immediately shocked the world under the leadership of Miroslav “Ćiro” Blažević. “Vatreni” (nickname given to the team, meaning fiery ones) threw the whole nation into a trance for a month, only to return from France with a bronze medal that even those whose optimism borders on insanity did not hope for. One of the attackers of the team, Davor Šuker won the Golden Boot with six goals, leaving behind greats like Gabriel Batistuta, Christian Vieri, Ronaldo…
Croatia was in Group H with Jamaica, Japan and Argentina. The long-awaited, first appearance of the Croatian national football team in the world championships could not have started in a better way – at the stadium of French champion Lens, with the great support of thousands of fans, Croatia defeated Jamaica 3:1.
The passage to the round of 16, which were desired as an achievement before the World Cup began, was achived with the win against Japan, which was beaten 1:0.
Croatia clashed with Romania in the round of 16. Vatreni won 1:0, and the victory could have been more convincing because the mature and tactically superior Croatia allowed the Romanians only one half-chance in the entire match. The scorer of the only goal was Davor Šuker from the penalty spot at the end of the first half, after contact between Gabriel Popescu and Asanović. Šuker had to beat Stela twice, as his successful first attempt was disallowed by the Argentinian referee, but in the second Šuker sent the ball into the same left corner of the goal.
Croatia did not have to wait long for sweet revenge against the Germans for Euro 1996. Two years after the robbery of Leif Sundell at Old Trafford, Lyon’s Gerland stadium was the scene of the most famous victory in the history of the Croatian national team. Dražen Ladić saved Vatreni with his interventions while the forces on the field were equally aligned, and then the 40th minute happened. Christian Worns made a rough start on Davor Šuker in the middle of the field, and the brave Norwegian referee Rune Pedersen showed him a straight red card.
After the German invasion, the world realized the strength of Croatia
The game completely changed from that moment, and deep in stoppage time of the first part, Robert Jarni checked the helpless Koepke with a cannon shot from about 20 meters. A similar recipe, only from the other side, was applied by Goran Vlaović in the 80th minute, and Šuker set the final result in the 86th with his fourth goal at the World Cup. It was a victory after which the world got to know Croatia, and which was celebrated throughout the homeland and diaspora until morning.
This was followed by a trip to France, which made it to the semi-finals with a lot of luck against Paraguay (with a golden goal) and Italy (with a penalty kick). This was followed by a trip to France, which made it to the semi-finals with a lot of luck against Paraguay (with a golden goal) and Italy (with a penalty kick). After the miraculous entry into the top four teams in the world, we hoped to knock out the hosts, who were under tremendous pressure since the Tricolori, despite the great players they had, had never won the world title before.
France – Croatia semi finals match (2:1)
After a chess-like first half in which there were no real opportunities, Croatia took the lead in the 46th minute. Asanović played fantastically past Šuker, and the latter receives the ball and coolly checkmates Barthez for a shock at Saint Denis. The celebration lasted less than a minute because Boban lost the ball on the edge of the penalty area, and Djorkaeff played through Thuram, whose ball Ladić could not stop. A similar situation happened in the 70th minute, and the accomplice for Thuram’s goal was Jarni. Although in the 74th minute France was left with one less player due to Laurent Blanc, unfortunately they managed to hold out until the end, which was certainly helped by the fact that Ćiro Blažević inexplicably kept Robert Prosinečki on the bench until the 90th minute.
If the clash with Germany is the most memorable match of our national team, then the duel with the Netherlands is definitely the most important, because the historic bronze medal was forged there. With goals from Robert Prosinečki and Davor Šuker, Croatia celebrated in an open match. The completely demoralized Dutch, who arrived in France for the gold, missed several great opportunities, and only Zenden managed to temporarily equalize with a ‘dry sheet’ in the middle of the first half.
List of Croatian national team members who won third place at the WC 1998:
GOALKEEPER: Dražen Ladić, Marijan Mrmić, Vladimir Vasilj
DEFENDERS: Goran Jurić, Zvonimir Soldo, Slaven Bilić, Igor Štimac, Dario Šimić, Igor Tudor, Robert Jarni, Ante Šerić
MIDFIELDERS: Zvonimir Boban, Aljoša Asanović, Robert Prosinečki, Silvio Marić, Krunoslav Jurčić, Zoran Mamić, Mario Stanić.
FORWARDS: Davor Šuker, Goran Vlaović, Petar Krpan, Ardian Kozniku
MENU: Miroslav Ćiro Blažević