In this time of World Cup madness, one team that reached semifinals attracts attention as their country is not often in the headlines. As a Croatian, I must share a thought or two how we achived to reach 2nd semifinal in 20 years(first WC that Croatia was eligible to compete was 1998. when it finished 3rd).
So, we can say that Croatia is really strong in the most popular sport in the world despite the fact that it has population of only 4 million. How is this possible?
Except that Croats have talent for sport (or we like to think in that direction), Croatia has very good football infrastructure, and by infrastructure I don’t mean stadiums (which are horrible). Every kid can train this sport even before his 5th birthday in many clubs or academies, and 8 year olds or younger are starting to play games in real competitions. We can say that every kid born in Croatia have a good chance to become a great footballer.
Ok, but football infrastucture is also good and even better in other countries, but they don’t have such successes? What was the key to success for current national team?
Many young players use Croatian league as a start, but later they continue their development in greatest clubs in the continent. Recent study says that 346 Croatians are playing in foreign leagues. Current team has players from the best European clubs, with only 2 players from Croatian league.
Despite many differences among players, current generation found they unity under Zlatko Dalic, who became a manager only 9 months ago in a moment when Croatia was on the brink to miss the World Cup, with only one game to go (it was crucial to win in Ukraine and they did it and reached the World Cup through additional qualifing round against Greece).
Unlike others, Croatian national team never had a foreign manager. It is important to say that Croatian managers are currently leading German, Belgian and Polish champions.
3. Be positive/optimistic
From the first game, Zlatko Dalic and his players was focused only on the next step, but they was also always talking about “the opportunity to go far” and that “we know we are good”.
4. Have faith in yourself
Players of greatest clubs in Europe have confidence, but also faith in their quality and experience to play on the highest level. When Croatia secured place in the 2nd round after two games, Dalic placed completely different team in last unimportant game of 1st stage against Iceland with only 2 players from first 11. The result: they still win (2:1)!
5. Right time
Modric (Real Madrid), Rakitic (Barcelona), Mandzukic (Juventus), Perisic (Inter Milan), Lovren (Liverpool) and Vida (Besiktas) are all now in their golden years (29-32) and can lead other younger talents on the way to the trophy.
They missed a penalty 7 minutes before the end of extra-time of 1/8 final game and concieved a goal for 2:2 5 minutes before the end of extra-time in the quarter final, but still won not once, but twice on penalties. In the half time, they come back form a goal behind (third time in a row) and won in extra time, well that’s character!