Croatian Sport 2021: A Year in Review

Daniela Rogulj

Updated on:

Slobodan Kadic
Slobodan Kadic

2020 was a write-off in sports, with some of the biggest competitions canceled as the Covid pandemic plagued the world. It was the year that postponed the Tokyo Olympics and EURO 2020, with no sporting event left unscathed by the threat of COVID-19. 

The desperate wait for the vaccine ended at the start of 2021, allowing a slow normalization of the life we were used to, but not without rigorous measures in place to ensure we never revisited what had come before. 

As vaccinations heightened, so did the return of sports, and the competitions we missed in 2020 filled the 2021 calendar year. As a result, athletes worldwide recorded one of their busiest years yet. 

Croatian sport 2021 – a recap of what Croatian athletes achieved this year. 

Olympics & Paralympics

The Olympic Games in Tokyo were the second most successful Olympics in Croatian history! Croatia won three gold, three silver, and two bronze medals in Tokyo, taking 26th place in the overall list of medal winners. Croatian athletes were more successful in Rio 2016, winning five gold, three silver, and two bronze medals.

Croatia won a total of eight medals in Tokyo. Gold was won by taekwondo artist Matea Jelić, the Sinković brothers in coxless pairs, and Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić in tennis doubles (more on that below).

Silver was won by Tonči Stipanović in laser sailing, tennis doubles team Marin Čilić and Ivan Dodig, and gymnast Tin Srbić, while the bronze was won by taekwondo artist Toni Kanaet and Damir Martin in rowing singles.

Croatia was fantastic at the Paralympics, too, winning 7 medals total thanks to Velimir Šandor (silver), Ivan Katanušić (silver), Ivan Mikulić (silver), table tennis (bronze), Dino Sinovčić (bronze), Mikela Ristoski (bronze), and Deni Černi (bronze). 


What a year it was for Croatian football, with many ups, downs, and turnarounds. 

EURO 2020

The Croatia national team recorded one of the busiest years, with World Cup qualifications wrapped around the rescheduled EURO 2020.

Croatia opened Group D of the Euros in London with a loss against England, followed by a draw against the Czech Republic and a win against Scotland in Glasgow to push them through to the round of 16. 

Croatia moved from the UK to Copenhagen to face Spain in the last 16, finally in front of their beloved fans who struggled to travel to the UK due to impossible isolation and testing measures.

Croatia was unfortunately knocked out by Spain (3:5) after an exciting extra time finish. It wasn’t the result Croatia had hoped for, but it was a wake-up call for coach Zlatko Dalić to achieve exactly what Croatia did next. 

World Cup qualifications

Croatia’s World Cup qualifiers did not begin on a high note in March, with a loss against Slovenia to open the group stage. While expected but narrow victories against Cyprus and Malta followed, no one was sure if this Croatia side would even have a chance at qualifying for Qatar next year. 

A 0:0 draw to Russia in September and 0:1 win against Slovakia brought some hope, though it wasn’t until beating Slovenia 3:0 at home that Croatia started looking like the team we knew them to be. Croatia proceeded with wins against Cyprus, a draw against Slovakia, a blowout victory against Malta, and a crucial 1:0 win against Russia at a sold-out Poljud to qualify directly for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in the first place!

Before the 2022 World Cup, Croatia will play in the Nations League against France, Denmark, and Austria. 

U21 EURO in Slovenia + EURO 2023 qualifications 

It was an incredible year for the Croatia U21s, which began in March with EURO 2021 in Slovenia. 

Croatia played in Group D, losing to Portugal to open the tournament but winning against Switzerland and England for a spot in the knockout stage where Croatia lost to Spain in extra time. 

Croatia continued the year with EURO 2023 qualifications, in which they remain undefeated with 6 wins against Norway, Austria, Finland, Azerbaijan, and Estonia. 

Their qualifying journey will continue at the end of March next year when they will compete against Austria and Finland at home.

Nine group winners and the best second-placed team will qualify for the 2023 European Championships, while the remaining eight runners-up will advance to additional qualifications.

Dinamo in Europa League

It was an exciting year for Croatian champion Dinamo, who will be best remembered for a wild Europa League comeback in March against Tottenham thanks to an Oršić hattrick, securing their spot in the quarterfinal against Villareal. It was named among the competition’s 10 best matches of the 2020/2021 season.

Dinamo also went strong into the 2021/22 Europe League season, finishing the group stage with a win against West Ham for second place of the group and the Europa League playoff round in the spring against Sevilla

Croatian Cup 

Not only did Dinamo go on to win the Croatian First League in the 2020/2021 season, but they also won the Croatian Cup, topping Istra 1961 6:3 in the final for the double crown.

Things are looking slightly different this season, as Dinamo was knocked out of the Croatian Cup against Rijeka – not to mention that the Croatian First League standings are closer than ever. 

In the Croatian Football Cup semifinals, Rijeka will play against Osijek at Rujevica Stadium, and Hajduk will face Gorica at Poljud.

This is a great opportunity for Hajduk, which has played 19 consecutive Cup games away. Hajduk last won the Cup in 2013, which is also the last trophy for the Split club. Therefore, Hajduk has the chance to play two home games in the Cup and a historic opportunity for their first trophy in eight years. The last time Split hosted the Cup was in March 2016 in the semifinal match against Dinamo.

The semifinal matches will be played on March 1 and 2, 2022, and the Cup final will be played on May 22 next year at Poljud Stadium in Split.


Mate Pavić and Nikola Mektić

It was an absolutely incredible year for Croatian tennis, due mainly to the success of the doubles team Mate Pavić and Nikola Mektić. Not only did these two win Wimbledon before celebrating in the historic all-Croatian doubles final at the Tokyo Olympics, but they finished the year as the best doubles team in the world!

Marin Čilić

It wasn’t a bad year for Marin, either, who reached two finals in Russia in one week. While he lost in the Moscow final to Aslan Karatsev, Čilić defeated American tennis player Taylor Fritz in the St. Petersburg Open final to win his second ATP tournament in 2021.

This was Čilić’s 35th appearance in the final of an ATP tournament and the third in 2021. He won Stuttgart in June, while he lost in the Moscow final. St. Petersburg was the 20th title of his career! 

Donna Vekić

Donna did it in 2021, too. At the Courmayeur Ladies Open, the Osijek native reached her third WTA title in the ninth WTA final of her career and the first after June 2019 in Nottingham. She won in the final against 18-year-old Dane Clara Tauson.

Donna Vekić won her last of the two titles in 2017 in Nottingham. Before that, in 2014, she celebrated in Kuala Lumpur.

Petra Marčinko

Young Croatian tennis player Petra Marčinko also became the #1 junior tennis player in the world this year! The 16-year-old Croatian became the first player in history to win the most prestigious junior tournament – Orange Bowl – in both singles and doubles competitions and ended the year as the best junior in the world. 

Davis Cup 

The Croatia tennis team became the second-best in the world after Russia celebrated in the Davis Cup final in Madrid. Russia beat Croatia 2-0 in the final, winning both singles matches. After Andrey Rublev defeated Borna Gojo 6:4, 7:6 (5) in the first match, bringing Russia the first point, Daniil Medvedev, the second-best tennis player in the world, defeated Marin Čilić 7:6 (7), 6:2, thus securing the Cup for Russia. 

This year, Croatia had a brilliant Davis Cup campaign, beating Australia and Hungary in the group stage before topping Italy in the quarters and Serbia in the semifinal for a spot in the final this year. Unfortunately, in this tournament, Croatia played without one of its top tennis players – Borna Ćorić.

Croatia thus remains on the two Davis Cup trophies. Croatia won the Cup in 2005 and 2018, and in addition to this final, they played and lost the final in 2016 (against Argentina in Zagreb).


2021, unfortunately, started with a Croatia handball fiasco and the worst placement in World Champs history for the men’s side. 

The Croatia national handball team said goodbye to the World Championship in Egypt after losing to Denmark in the decisive match for the quarterfinals.

The Cowboys thus finished in 15th place, behind Russia and ahead of Switzerland. Before this World Championship in Egypt, the worst Croatian ranking at the World Championship was 13th place from the Japan tournament in 1997.

The poor result forced the resignation of coach Lino Červar, and the Federation announced that Hrvoje Horvat would fill his shoes.

While Horvat tried to revamp the team with young blood, it wasn’t enough for the Olympic qualifications just two months later. Croatia handball thus failed to qualify for Tokyo and was left without the Olympic Games for the first time in the last 21 years. This last happened to Croatia in 2000 when they missed the Sydney Games.

But not all hope is lost. Croatia used 2021 to regain their footing and adapt to new systems, which will be seen on the court at the European Championships next month. 

The Croatia women’s handball team didn’t have the best of luck, either, and failed to advance to the World Championship quarterfinals in Spain.

Water Polo 


The Croatia men’s water polo team recorded six wins and two defeats in Tokyo, finishing 5th at the Olympic Games after beating the USA 14-11 (2-3, 4-2, 4-2, 4-4) on the last day of the Games. 

Croatia achieved three victories in Group B (Kazakhstan, Serbia, Montenegro) and two defeats (Australia, Spain), taking second place in the group behind Spain.

The Croatia water polo team lost to Hungary for a spot in the semifinals of the Olympic Games.

Croatian Cup 

The Jadran Split men’s team took home the Croatian Water Polo Cup for the first time!

In their third Croatian Cup final and the third against Jug, the Jadran men’s team finally tasted victory. While Jug was after their 17th cup and 66th trophy, Jadran reached its 15th trophy in history, and the first cup, including the former state cup.

And the Jadran’s women’s team celebrated, too, returning the Croatian Cup women’s trophy to Split after five years. 


Olympic Qualifiers

The Croatia men’s basketball team, led by NBA star Bojan Bogdanović, failed to qualify for the Olympic Games at the qualifying tournament held in Split. 

In their two group stage games, Croatia was unimpressive, recording a tough defeat against Brazil (94:67) and a close victory over Tunisia (75:70).

Croatia and Germany met in the tournament’s semifinal at Spaladium Arena, losing in the last five minutes for the final 86:76. Only the winner of the tournament qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. 

Toni Kukoč Hall of Fame Induction 

Toni Kukoč officially became an enshrined member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The induction of the class of 2021 was held in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Split-born former basketball star was joined by other superstars – Chris Bosh, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, and Chris Webber, and coaches, referees, and contributors Rick Adelman, Bill Russell, Jay Wright, Val Ackerman, Howard Garfinkel, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Bob Dandridge, Pearl Moore, and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins.

Kukoč was introduced to the Hall of Fame by his former team-mate, Michael Jordan, and Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls owner, for the past 35 years.


The Sinković brothers recorded another brilliant year, winning the gold medal in coxless pairs at the European Rowing Championships in Varese. 

The celebrated pair continued their winning streak with the Olympic gold in the coxless pairs in Tokyo, securing their third Olympic medal in the third different discipline, after the silver in the quadruple sculls from London 2012 and the gold in the doubles sculls from Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Croatian rower Damir Martin was also excellent this year, winning the bronze medal in single sculls at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. This was the third Olympic medal for 33-year-old Martin, after the silver in the quadruple sculls from London in 2012 and the silver in the singles from Rio de Janeiro in 2016.


Following the Tokyo Olympics, the International Judo Federation (IJF) announced the world’s best judokas. The current world champion and the best Croatian judoka, Barbara Matić, took the top spot in the category up to 70 kg, while Karla Prodan came 8th in the category up to 78 kg.

The best result in the performances of Croatian judokas so far at the Olympic Games (fifth place in Tokyo) helped Barbara Matić jump by seven positions and became the first name in the category up to 70 kg.

For the first time in one year, Croatian judo had two names in the Top 10 judokas. 


Sandra Perković

Croatia’s best female athlete reached her 44th victory at the Diamond League in her career this year with a throw of 65.68 meters in the decisive sixth series. She surpassed the second-placed Cuban Yaime Perez by 37 centimeters, while the Olympic winner from Tokyo, American Valarie Allman, took third place with a throw of 64.51 meters.

With this victory, Perković reached Perez in the overall standings of the Diamond League discus throw. Both now have 22 points, while Allman is third with 13 points.

After a disappointing campaign in Tokyo, where she was left without a medal after two consecutive gold medals in London and Rio, Sandra came back stronger than ever. We can’t wait to see what she has in store next year! 

Blanka Vlašić retires 

High jump champion Blanka Vlašić announced the end of her career this year at the age of 37.

The celebrated Croatian athlete and high jumper could no longer cope with her injuries, saying goodbye to the sport after becoming 2x outdoor world champion, winning silver at the Beijing Olympics, and bronze at the Rio Games. She has the second-best result of all time and is the Croatian record holder with a jump of 208 centimeters.


Croatian skier Filip Zubčić achieved the best slalom result of his carer, placing third in Val d’Isere at the end of the year!

After placing 6th in the first run, the Croatian skier improved his ranking at the French winter resort, finishing on the podium in third place. He was impeccable in the lower part of the track and entered the finish line as the first-place finisher.

Zubčić’s best slalom ranking in the World Cup before this was fifth place.

Croatia Rally

The 2021 Croatia Rally, the first-ever in the country, was watched by more than 100 million people in more than 150 countries. 

The current and seven-time world champion Frenchman Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) won the first edition of the Croatia Rally, the third World Rally Championship, driven on the local roads of Zagreb, Karlovac, and Krapina-Zagorje counties, and the City of Zagreb.

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page


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