Croatia, the Tiny Country Which Consistently Delivers

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Croatian football team welcome in December - Sanjin Strukic/PIXSELL
Sanjin Strukic/PIXSELL

There can be few places better during the World Cup than Croatia. The tiny country which dared to dream is transformed into a sea of red and white squares, as seemingly every member of the population possesses their own version of the national football shirt. A tiny nation of just 4 million people, and yet one which consistently delivers on the international stage at the big tournaments when it matters. Third place in 1998, the first World Cup of a newly-independent nation. Runners-up last time in Moscow, and one more bronze this time round, as Croatia overcame Morocco 2-1 in the third-place playoff, having succumbed to Argentina 3-0 in the semi-final. 

You will find plenty of people telling you how the referee was against Croatia against Argentina, much less of them who will reflect on Croatia’s biggest friend in the tournament, a Belgian striker called Lukaku in the group stages. Did that unfair penalty change the game? Perhaps. Had Lukaka scored one of the many open goals from one metre out, there would not have been a discussion about Argentina. At the end of the day, what matters are results.


(Photo: Slobodan Kadic)

And when it comes to results, few can compare to the success of the tiny country which dared to dream. Three medals in 6 World Cups in 24 years is a phenomenal achievement for any country, even more so for one so small, with a shrinking population of less than 3.9 million. What is additionally impressive, to me at least, is just how much of this is as a result of home-grown talent, which has been nurtured back in the Homeland. Livakovic was unquestionably the goalkeeper of the tournament, whatever the official decision, and in Gvadiol, Croatia and one of Europe’s biggest clubs, have one of the centre-backs of the world for many years to come. 

And there is plenty of home-grown talent that went on to shine on the international stage elsewhere, none more so than talisman captain Luka Modric, who started his journey at Dinamo Zagreb. I read somewhere that in the days of former Yugoslavia, players were not allowed to play abroad until they were 28. This no doubt strengthened the Yugoslav league at the time. Such a rule does not apply in Croatia, and the Croatian National League is fairly weak as a result, but the sheer number of talented stars that emerge from such a tiny country is breathtaking indeed. 

And many of those stars were on show on Zagreb’s main square of Ban Jelacic lat night, as the Vatreni returned home to a waiting crowd of 80,000 fans who had braved the December cold weather to welcome back their heroes. The timing was somewhat ironic, coming around the same time as the actual World Cup Final back in Qatar. But for many in Zagreb, the true champions of the tournament were the Croatian team on the main square. It was quite a party, not quite as crazy as the 550,000 who turned up in the summer of 2018 to welcome back the sliver-medal winning team from Moscow, but understandable given the time of year. Croats do celebration so well. 

Congratulations to Croatia and all my friends here on another great success. It has once more been very impressive to watch. 

Now, if only we could channel this passion, positivity, and success into changing things in this country… 


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.




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