December 23, 2019 – How did this year compare to Croatia’s most successful year in sport? A look at Croatian sport in 2019.
It seemed as though nothing could quite compare to 2018. It was the year Croatian football became World Cup finalists. The year Croatia brought home the Davis Cup trophy and thus gained sweet revenge on France. A year so successful, we’d never seen anything like it in Croatian history.
As 2019 began, I was hardly optimistic.
“How could we be so lucky again?”
Fortunately, the year was full of pleasant surprises. It was a year that saw our young talents thrive. A year that saw countless triumphs in both individual and team sports. It was another epic year in Croatian sport.
Here is our 2019 year in review.
Croatia Handball: 2019 began with the Men’s Handball World Championship, which featured Croatia in Group B. After four impressive wins against Iceland, Japan, Macedonia, and Bahrain, Croatia met Spain to decide the winner of the group. After topping Spain 23:19, Croatia went on to win Group B and continued to the main round of the tournament. Croatia was not so lucky there, losing to Brazil 29:26 and Germany 21:22, which ultimately took them out of the fight for the medal. A win against France for the final game of the main round restored their morale, though a loss to Sweden, in the end, saw Croatia finish the tournament as the 6th best team in the world. Croatia will play in the European Championships next month against Montenegro, Belarus and Serbia in Graz.
Franko Grgic: Promising Croatian swimmer, 16-year-old Franko Grgic, won two gold swimming medals in the 800-meter and 1500-meter races at this year’s World Junior Championships, and was even selected among the five finalists for the Piotr Nurowski Award, which as awarded by the European Olympic Committees (EOC) for the ninth time. Though he didn’t win the award in the end, he made sure he was on everyone’s swimming radar. The PK Jadran Split swimmer had an outstanding August, celebrating two gold medals and achieving new records at the 7th FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest. After winning the gold in the 800-meter-freestyle while breaking a Croatian record, the 16-year-old swimming sensation became the world champion in the 1500-meter-freestyle and achieved a new world junior record with a time of 14:46.09 minutes. Grgic swam 10.46 seconds faster in Budapest than his best-ever record in the 1500 meters, which was also Croatia’s national record. Franko’s previous career-fastest in the 800-meter free was achieved in Zagreb in March, where he swam 7:53.75. In Budapest, however, Grgic was 8 seconds faster, thus breaking the Croatian record held by Marin Mogic (7:51:78). Grgic was thus named the 25th fastest performer of all-time, any age, in this 800-meter freestyle. At the beginning of the year, Grgic won the gold in the 400-meter and 1500 meter at the EYOF in Baku, and also hit the Olympic standard for Tokyo 2020. We can’t wait to see him in Tokyo next summer.
Croatia Basketball: It wasn’t the greatest year for Croatia basketball, which failed to qualify for the World Cup in China back in August. However, with new coach Veljko Mrsic on the bench, Croatia still has a chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The light at the end of the tunnel to 2019 was the welcoming news that Split would be host to the 2020 Olympic Qualifying tournament next June, where Croatia will face Tunisia and Brazil, and crossover with Germany or Russia. It will be the strongest tournament played on Croatian ground since EuroBasket 1989 in Zagreb. But not all was bleak. In the NBA, Croatia captain Bojan Bogdanovic saw a stellar transfer to the Utah Jazz this summer, where he’s been playing the basketball of his career. Ivica Zubac is still a hit at the LA Clippers and Dario Saric is finding his footing better at the Phoenix Suns. Croatia also boasts a record seven players in the NBA this season. To end on a high, two legendary Croatian basketball players Toni Kukoc and Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Giergia have been listed among the 50 candidates nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Illinois.
Dina Levacic: Another year, another swimming success for Dina Levacic! In 7 hours, 13 minutes and 15 seconds, 23-year-old Solin native Dina Levacic completed the Tsugaru Strait to complete the fourth open water channel swim out of the seven in the ‘Oceans Seven’ challenge. The channel is located between Japan’s largest island, Honshu and Hokkaido, and high waves and strong frontal wind accompanied the Croatian swimmer the entire way. The member of the Split Swimming Club set one of her best times and became only the 67th person to complete the Tsugaru Strait.
The ‘Ocean Seven’ is a series of seven international swimming marathons, modeled after the Seven Summits mountaineering challenge. Dina Levačić had already swum three marathon channels from the ‘Ocean Seven’ series before attempting the Tsugaru: Catalina Channel, English Channel (La Manche) and Moloka’i Channel. After the Tsugaru Strait in Japan, Dina will still need to overcome the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, the Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa and the Cook Strait in New Zealand.
Croatia Football: On the heels of the greatest sporting success in Croatian history, the Croatia football team did not disappoint this year. Croatia’s Euro 2020 qualifiers kicked off back in March against Azerbaijan, where they won 2:1 at home. A shocking loss to Hungary stirred the pot, though wins against Wales and Slovakia put Croatia back on their feet. Draws to Wales and Azerbaijan complicated Croatia’s road to the Euros only slightly, as big wins against Hungary and Slovakia in the return games sealed the deal. Croatia not only qualified for the Euros next summer, but they finished at the top of their qualifying group. 2019 was also a pivotal year for Croatian football, as it will be remembered as the year the national team returned to Poljud stadium in Split for the first time since 2015. Croatia played to a sold-out stadium and coach Zlatko Dalic called it the best atmosphere they’d experienced. The Euros await Croatia next year, where they will face England, the Czech Republic, and the winner of the Nations League C (Norway/Serbia v Scotland/Israel).
Dinamo Zagreb: It was another successful year for Dinamo Zagreb, who clinched the Croatian Championship title for the 20th time back in April after defeating Slaven Belupo. Dinamo secured the title six rounds before the end of the season and 23 points ahead of Rijeka in second. While Rijeka went on to win the Croatian Cup, Dinamo went on to have an impressive Champions League campaign. After soaring through the Champions League qualifiers and playoff round, Dinamo advanced to the Group Stage against Manchester City, Atalanta, and Shakhtar Donetsk. Dinamo opened their seventh Champions League appearance against Atalanta at Maksimir stadium with a shocking 4:0 victory. They fell to City both times, drew to Shakhtar twice, and couldn’t do itagainst Atalanta the second time around. The Zagreb club finished last in their group and will not continue their European run in the spring.
Croatia Water Polo: It was a busy year for the Croatia water polo team, which began with the Europa Cup in Zagreb, where Croatia failed to defend the title after losing to Hungary in the final. From the Europa Cup to the World League Super Final in Serbia, Croatia went on to defeat Kazakhstan, Australia, Japan, and Spain for a spot in the final against Serbia, where they lost by one goal. The summer continued with the World Championships, where Croatia was again better than Australia, the USA, and Kazakhstan. They defeated Germany in the quarterfinal but lost to Spain in the semis to miss their chance in the final. Croatia did, however, beat Hungary for third place. Croatia will compete in the Euros next month, where they will have to finish at the top to secure their spot in the Tokyo Olympics next summer. Croatia water polo ended the year with yet another impressive recognition as two team members are among the top seven in the world – Maro Jokovic and Josip Vrlic.
Croatia Tennis: Unlike last year, where Croatia took home the Davis Cup title, this year saw a Croatia squad plagued with injuries and a new coach just days before the tournament was to begin. Croatia didn’t make it out of their group this time around after falling to Russia and Spain, but they can be proud of their individual achievements. Osijek native Donna Vekic made it to the Nottingham final where she lost to Caroline Garcia. She even advanced to the round of 16 at the Cincinnati Masters, Roland Garros, and the US Open. Petra Martic defeated 19-year-old Czech player Markéta Vondroušová to get her first WTA title at the Istanbul Cup. Martic also secured the fourth WTA final of her career at the Zhengzhou Open, where she lost to Karolina Pliskova, and also faced Serena Williams in the US Open round of 16. Both Petra and Donna played in the WTA Elite Trophy tournament, which brings together female tennis players ranked 9th to 19th on the WTA ladder. Borna Coric made it to the semifinal of the Dubai Open, Rosmalen, and St. Petersburg, where he ultimately went on to the final. Marin Cilic’s first semifinal in fourteen months wasn’t until the Kremlin Cup back in October. The real star of Croatian tennis this year is Ivan Dodig, who won two ATP doubles titles with Filip Polasek, at the China Open and the Cincinnati Masters. Dodig also won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Latisha Chan and defended their Roland Garros title just weeks before.
Sandra Perkovic: Sandra Perkovic failed to defend the world championship title in the discus throw this year, which she won two years ago in London, but still secured a medal at the World Championships in Doha. Namely, Perkovic won the bronze medal after throwing 66.72 meters in the first series of the finals, while Cubans Yaime Perez and Denia Caballero were the gold and silver medalists. This was Sandra’s fourth medal at the World Championships. Sandra became the world champion in Moscow in 2013 and London in 2017 and won the silver in Beijing in 2015. In addition to four world championship medals, Perkovic is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time European champion.
Croatia Gymnastics: It was another big year for Tin Srbic, who won the silver medal at the European Championships in Szczecin in the horizontal bar event. The Croatian gymnast went on to win the gold medal with an impressively high score of 14.900 points at the World Cup in Paris, and ended the year with a silver medal at the World Championships in Stuttgart. He was also named the best Croatian male athlete by the Croatian Olympic Committee.
Croatia’s best female gymnast Ana Đerek won the gold medal at the World Cup competition in Osijek after a brilliant floor performance, and Robert Seligman advanced to the Cottbus World Cup finals in the pommel horse.
Sinkovic Brothers: The dynamic duo did it again! The year began with a second-place medal in the coxless pairs at the World Cup in Plovdiv, though it only went up from there. Martin and Valent Sinkovic defended their world rowing championship title in the coxless pairs in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, and ended the year as the best rowing team in the world, declared by the FISA World Rowing Organization!
Snjezana Pejcic: Croatia’s best female shooter Snjezana Pejcic and her Indian teammate Divyansh Singh Panwar won the mixed team air rifle competition to wrap up the World Cup final in Putian, China. Pejcic has already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will be her fourth appearance at the Olympic Games.
Croatia Taekwondo: The Croatia national team finished their appearance at the European Senior Championships with three medals – silver medals for Lovro Brecic and Toni Kanaet and a bronze for Matea Jelic.
Dino Sinovcic: Croatian Paralympian Dino Sinovcic won the 100m backstroke gold medal in the S6 category at the WPS World Paralympic Championships in London. Sinovic won at the Queen Elizabeth Aquatic Center with a time of 1:15.46, ahead of the Chinese swimmer Hong Yang who swam a time of 1:15.47 for the silver, and Argentine Matias De Andrade, who swam a time of 1:16.91 for the bronze.
Stipe Miocic: The 36-year-old Croatian-American Stipe Miocic defeated 40-year-old American Daniel Cormier by a knockout in the fourth round of the UFC 241 fight held in Anaheim, California. Stipe thus won sweet revenge on Cormier and brought back the UFC Heavyweight Champion title to Ohio after he lost it to Cormier in Las Vegas 13 months before. The fight between Miocic and Cormier lasted more than 19 minutes, in which the title defender had more significant blows (123-98).
Croatia Karate: The karate gold and silver came to Croatia thanks to the brilliant Kvesic brothers from Karate club Hercegovina-Zagreb. At this year’s European Games in Minsk, Ivan Kvesic won the gold medal while his brother Anđelo Kvesic secured the silver. Croatian representatives returned home with eight medals from the European Games in Minsk – two gold, one silver and five bronze.
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