Croatian Football History: The Remarkable Summers of 1998 & 2018

Daniela Rogulj

croatian football history

June the 17th, 2024 – Croatia lost to Spain, but let’s pick our spirits back up with some golden Croatian football history. July the 11th is a historic day for Croatian football. On that date back in 1998, Croatia defeated Holland to secure the bronze medal at the World Cup in France. And on July the 11th, 2018, Croatia beat England for a spot in their first ever World Cup final. 

I’m not sure any summer can top the summer of 2018 in Croatia. 

The streets were lined with red and white checkers, bodies were propped on the tops of cars, and Croatian flags waved with glory in the hot summer air. The sky glowed pink from flares, the sounds of car horns and loudspeakers blasting Croatia’s favorite patriotic songs filled every public square across the country, and the nation, for the first time in a long time, came together as one. 

On July the 11th, 2018, the national team achieved its best ever result in Croatian football history, though not many believed they could. On the eve of the semi-final, journalists around the world questioned if Croatia had the stamina to surpass England, a nation who thought it was their year to bring football home, and who had an advantage over Croatia because their last two games didn’t move to penalties. Croatia was said to be mentally and physically exhausted after brutal battles against Denmark and Russia, and the legs on their fairytale were destined to buckle. 

Slobodan Kadic

Many of us worried that the media’s prophecy would be true after Trippier scored for England just five minutes into that historic semi-final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Croatia’s fatigue hardly carried them through the first half, which ended at 0:1 for England. Even the biggest believers in Croatia questioned if football really was going home to England that year. 

But Croatia’s second wind carried them through the second half, and Ivan Perišić scored the equalizer in the 68th minute. As the clock ticked to the final minute, time stopped for Croatian fans who feared they didn’t have a nerve left to spare to get them through another gruelling extra time – especially one that decided their fate in the World Cup final. But with 10 minutes to go, Mario Mandžukić confirmed just why he is our Super Mario – and scored the goal that assured Croatia’s first ever World Cup final. The country erupted into madness. 

“How did I feel at that moment?” said Mandžukić. “I don’t know… I can’t find the words. I can’t; it was indescribable.” 

Slobodan Kadic

Which is a fair assessment to what most would say when looking back on that glorious day in Croatian football history. And I’d agree – it was indescribable. 

Thus, on July 11th, twice, Croatia quite incredibly won two of the most important victories in its football history. 


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