Croatia has unfinished business to take care of in Qatar.
The nation came close to World Cup glory in Russia four years ago, only to fall to France in the final. The 2018 run was a high point in the short but successful World Cup history for the European nation.
Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has been well-represented on the global soccer stage since. It took less than a decade for Croatia to reach a World Cup, and it was on the verge of lifting the World Cup trophy less than 30 years into the country’s existence.
Now, the nation is looking to finish the job. The team landed in Group F with Morocco, Canada and Belgium and started the tournament against Morocco on Nov. 23. Croatia wasn’t high on the list of tournament favorites, but it has added to its track record of exceeding World Cup expectations.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
Croatia finished second in Group F and used a pair of nail-biting victories to reach the semifinals. The team advanced past Japan thanks to a penalty shootout in the round of 16 and needed more PKs to knock out No. 1 Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Next up for Croatia is a semifinal showdown against Lionel Messi and Argentina. Before that match gets underway, here is a deep dive into Croatia’s World Cup history:
Croatia World Cup appearances
This is Croatia’s third straight World Cup appearance and sixth all-time.
The country made its World Cup debut in 1998 and got back to the tournament in 2002 and 2006. After missing out in 2010, Croatia returned in 2014 and earned another bid in 2018.
What is Croatia’s best World Cup result?
Croatia got to the biggest game in international soccer in 2018.
The team went undefeated in Group D play, out-scoring Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland by a combined 7-1 score across three games. Things got dicier to start the knockout stages, though. Croatia needed penalty kicks to eliminate Denmark in the round of 16 and another shootout to fend off host nation Russia in the quarterfinals.
With the victory over Russia, Croatia reached its second ever World Cup semifinal. Next up for manager Zlatko Dalić’s squad was England, and once again the score was tied after two halves. Mario Mandžukić put Croatia ahead with a left-footed goal in the 109th minute and the team held on to punch its first ticket to the World Cup Final.
Mandžukić found the back of the wrong net early in the final against France. He headed in a free kick attempt from France’s Antoine Griezmann in the 18th minute to put Croatia in a 1-0 hole. Ivan Perišić scored an equalizer in the 28th minute, but France proceeded to go on a 3-0 run over the next 40 minutes. Mandžukić scored in the 69th minute, but Croatia’s comeback attempt ended there as France earned the 4-2 win for its second World Cup title.
Though the team came in second place, Luka Modrić earned one of the tournament’s top honors. The Croatian midfielder took home the Golden Ball award, which is given to the best player at a given World Cup. Modrić had two goals, one assist and led the tournament in minutes played. The Real Madrid star also scored both of his PK attempts in Croatia’s wins over Denmark and Russia.
Croatia’s second-best World Cup run also came to an end against France. The two nations met in the 1998 semifinals at the Stade de France with the host nation pulling out a 2-1 win thanks to a pair of goals from Lilian Thuram. France proceeded to beat Brazil 3-0 in that year’s final, while Croatia edged the Netherlands by a 2-1 score in the third-place match. Davor Šuker scored the game-winner for Croatia in the 36th minute, securing him the Golden Shoe with his tournament-leading sixth goal of the event.
Croatia all-time World Cup results
In all, Croatia went 11-4-8 in its 23 World Cup matches through 2018. Here are the game-by-game outcomes:
- Group play: Croatia 3, Jamaica 1
- Group play: Croatia 1, Japan 0
- Group play: Argentina 1, Croatia 0
- Round of 16: Croatia 1, Romania 0
- Quarterfinals: Croatia 3, Germany 0
- Semifinals: France 2, Croatia 1
- Third place match: Croatia 2, Netherlands 1
- Group play: Mexico 1, Croatia 0
- Group play: Croatia 2, Italy 1
- Group play: Ecuador 1, Croatia 0
- Group play: Brazil 1, Croatia 0
- Group play: Croatia 0, Japan 0
- Group play: Croatia 2, Australia 2
- Group play: Brazil 3, Croatia 1
- Group play: Croatia 4, Cameroon 0
- Group play: Mexico 3, Croatia 1
- Group play: Croatia 2, Nigeria 0
- Group play: Croatia 3, Argentina 0
- Group play: Croatia 2, Iceland 1
- Round of 16: Croatia 1, Denmark 1 (3-2 penalties)
- Quarterfinals: Croatia 2, Russia 2 (4-3 penalties)
- Semifinals: Croatia 2, England 1 (ET)
- Final: France 4, Croatia 2
- Group play: Croatia 0, Morocco 0
- Group play: Croatia 4, Canada 1
- Group play: Croatia 0, Belgium 0
- Round of 16: Croatia 1, Japan 1 (3-1 penalties)
- Quarterfinals: Croatia 1, Brazil 1 (4-2 penalties)
Which player has the most goals for Croatia in World Cup history?
Šuker and Perišić currently share the record for most World Cup goals in Croatia’s history.
All six of Šuker’s goals came at the 1998 World Cup in what turned out to be his lone appearance in the event at 30 years old.
Perišić tied Šuker’s career mark in Qatar. He entered this year’s tournament with five World Cup goals, scoring twice in 2014 and three times in 2018, and got his first goal of 2022 in the round of 16 against Japan.
Which player has the most appearances for Croatia in World Cup history?
Modrić leads all Croatian players with 17 World Cup games under his belt. He tied Šimić’s record of 11 World Cup matches by starting the 2018 semifinal against England and took sole possession of the record when he donned the captain’s armband in the final against France. At 37 years old, Modrić will get to 18 against Argentina and can get to 19 if Croatia reaches another final.
Perišić and Dejan Lovren are next on the list with 15 World Cup games apiece.
What is the origin of Croatia’s checker-patterned jerseys?
Croatia sports one of the most iconic kits in international soccer.
The national team debuted its signature red-and-white checkerboard look in 1992. The design came from avant-garde artist Miroslav Šutej, the same man who designed Croatia’s flag.
The club has stuck with the design in its home kits ever since while infusing a checkerboard variation in its road kits. The 2022 home kit features a twist on the usual red-and-white checkerboard and the road kit is a dark navy blue with a blue checkerboard on the left sleeve.
Lotto was the original manufacturer of Croatia’s kits. The team switched to Kappa in 1994 before switching back to Lotto in 1996. Nike has been the team’s manufacturer since 2000.