Sport in Croatia 2017: A Year in Review

Daniela Rogulj

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TCN looks back on a wild year of Croatian sports.

The 2017 year is nearing its end, and with just two days left until we welcome 2018, its time to reflect, among other things, on a year in Croatian sports.

From handball to tennis, football to basketball, and world champions in discus, gymnastics, and rowing, here’s what happened in the world of Croatian sports in 2017.

Croatian Handball team falls short in World Championships

The year kicked off with the 2017 World Handball Championships in France, with Croatia competing in Group C with Germany, Hungary, Belarus, Chile, and Saudi Arabia. While the Croatian team was missing some of their key players for the tournament, and overall expectations were modest, coach Babić took a group of young Croatian handballers to great lengths. After defeating Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the tournament, followed by wins against Hungary, Belarus, and Chile, it was Germany to crush Croatia’s winning streak in the tournament – though that wasn’t enough to hold them back from advancing to the round of 16. Croatia then went on to beat Egypt to advance to the quarterfinals where they met Spain – securing another win to advance to the semifinals of the tournament. Faced with battling Norway for a spot in the finals of the championship, the Croatian team fell short and would play neighbors Slovenia in the battle for third place and the bronze medal. Unfortunately, Croatia failed to overcome the Slovenian team, and although our Cowboys were eight goals ahead, Slovenia managed to stage an incredible comeback to claim the bronze medal of World Championships, their first ever. Croatia finished the tournament as the 4th best handball nation in the world.

Croatian football team’s dramatic road to World Cup in Russia, and all the drama in Croatian football 

Fans of Croatian football have been taken on a wild roller coaster ride this year with loads of loops and motion sickness. It all began when former coach Ante Čačić took a team of young Croatian First League footballers to the first ever China Cup in Nanning in January. After a long-haul flight and just two training sessions, Croatia lost to Chile in the semifinals of the tournament in a penalty shootout. Just two months later, Croatia was set to play Ukraine for their World Cup qualifier in Zagreb, the first home game Croatian fans had seen in nearly two years. Croatia ended up defeating Ukraine 1:0 with a goal by Nikola Kalinić. The team went on to play a friendly match in Estonia just a few days later (HNS owed the country a favor) where Croatian wonderkid Marko Pjaca said goodbye to his career for the 2017 season. In May, coach Ante Čačić took a team of Croatian First League players to represent the Croatian A-Team for a friendly match against Mexico. It was Croatia’s US debut, and against all odds, the youngsters won. Following the friendly, Croatia suffered an embarrassing last-minute defeat to Iceland in the World Cup qualifiers in June, forcing many fans of Croatian football to question just what coach Čačić was doing. In another embarrassing two-part fiasco at a flooded Maksimir Stadium in September, Croatia barely slipped past Kosovo with a 1:0 defeat for another World Cup qualifying match. Two days later, Croatia suffered a shocking loss to Turkey in the following qualifier, and support for the team and federation was severely dwindling. The final straw for the national team came one month later in Croatia’s qualifier against Finland at Rujevica. In the lead, Croatia ended up drawing with Finland – considerably threatening their top place in the group for placement into the World Cup. Fans of Croatian football got what they wanted (well, some of it), and coach Čačić was fired the following morning. Zlatko Dalić was named the new coach of the Croatian national team and led Croatia through a stunning victory against Ukraine, saving their dream of the World Cup and advancing them to the playoffs for placement in the tournament. Croatia faced Greece in the playoffs where they defeated them in Zagreb and drew in Piraeus, securing them a place in the World Cup in Russia next summer. HNS confirmed that Dalić will lead the team in Russia next year where Croatia will play Argentia, Iceland, and Nigeria. The icing on the cake: Šuker has also been re-elected as the HNS president

HNK Rijeka creates history after winning Croatian First League and Cup 

2017 was a magical year for the Rijeka football club. After they claimed their first Croatian championship title ever in the First League, losing only one match throughout the entire season, they proceeded to defeat Dinamo in the Croatian Cup finals just 10 days later in Varaždin with a score of 3:1. This is the first time the club has ever achieved such success in their 71-years of existence. The celebration was one that will be remembered by Rijeka fans forever.

Luka Modrić ‘can’t remember’ in trial against Zdravko Mamić 

The trial of the Croatian football boss, who is charged with damaging Dinamo Zagreb for around HRK 116 million, is a story that did not go unnoticed in 2017 – and it has especially resurfaced over the last few days. Croatia’s best footballer Luka Modrić was brought to the stand at the Osijek Court in June this year for the continuation of the trial. The famous footballer was used as a witness regarding his transfer to Tottenham from Dinamo (EUR 21 million) in April 2008. USKOK accused Zdravko Mamić of backdating the annex to the professional gaming agreement between Dinamo and Luka Modrić to justify the payment of 50 percent of the transfer compensation to Modrić. This done at the time when Luka had already gone to England. That money from the transfer was taken by Luka Modrić and then handed to Zdravko Mamić and his family, in cash. When asked about the date on which the annex to the contract was signed between Modrić and Dinamo, Modrić’s famous words were ‘I can’t remember’. Those famous words from Modrić’s testimony got him in some hot water. DORH claimed that the footballer changed his testimony in favor of Mamić and is under investigation. Those three words, short and sweet, took Modrić from ‘zero to hero’, and at the very least, the Modrić memes from the event are something we will all remember forever. We hope Luka does too.

Marin Čilić advances to first ever Wimbledon final

It was an eventful year for Croatia’s best tennis player, and while much of it was plagued by injuries, Čilić accomplished some pretty amazing things in 2017. After reaching his first Wimbledon semifinal where commentators praised the Croat for playing the best tennis of his career, Marin shocked tennis fans around the world after he beat Querry 3:1 in sets to advance to his first Wimbledon final. The second grand slam final of his career, Marin is also the second Croat to reach the finals of Wimbledon. What should have been a grand tennis spectacle against Roger Federer ended in tears for Marin Čilić as pain from injuries were too intense to bear during the final match. Gritting his teeth to finish a heroic third set, while Roger Federer claimed the Wimbledon title, Čilić won the hearts of tennis fans around the world.

Croatia men’s water polo team becomes World Champions

The Croatia men’s water polo team became the champion nation of water polo at the 2017 FINA World Championships which took place in Budapest in July. Croatia defeated Hungary 8:6 in the finals with goals by Sandro Sukno, Javier Garcia, Marko Macan, Luka Lončar, and Maro Joković to claim their second world title in history. This was the sixth consecutive medal for Croatia at the world championships.

Sandra Perković wins discus gold medal for Croatia in London

Yet another medal to add to Croatia’s best female athlete’s collection, Sandra has had a more than stellar year. Named Croatia’s best sportswoman on Boxing Day just a few days ago, Sandra, who hails from Zagreb’s Dubrava, has two Olympic gold medals, is a four-time European champion, and claimed a victory in London at the World Athletics Championships in August to become the world champion in the discus for the second time. Sandra absolutely dominated the competition and was the only athlete to throw over 70m!

Croatia men’s basketball team disappoints at EuroBasket 

It was a bumpy road for the Croatian men’s basketball team at the EuroBasket competition in Romania this September. Croatia, who drew Group C with the Czech Republic, Spain, Montenegro, Romania and Hungary, opened the tournament with a win against Hungary, followed by wins against Romania and Montenegro. While they couldn’t overcome Spain, they dominated the Czech Republic to advance to the round of 16 against Russia. Surprisingly, Croatia suffered a blowout and shock defeat against Russia, forcing them to be knocked out of the tournament. The defeat was followed by the sacking of then Croatia coach, Aco Petrović

Sinković brothers win silver medal at World Rowing Championships in the United States – in a new discipline 

As if Valent and Martin Sinković haven’t accomplished enough already, trying their hands at a new discipline this year was something they needed to check off their bucket list – and boy, did they do well. The Sinković brothers participated in the World Rowing Championships this year in the US, and while they are usually king at the double sculls discipline, this time they competed in the finals of the ‘men’s pairs’. In the finals, the brothers finished second! The win even prompted Prime Minister Plenković to congratulate them

Tin Srbić wins World Gymnastics gold in Montreal 

Tin Srbić, a 21-year-old gymnast from Zagreb, blew the Croatian sports world away this year with his incredible athletic accomplishment. For the first time, Srbić won the world gymnastics gold for Croatia at the 47th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships which took place in Montreal. To make this year even sweeter, Srbić was named the best sportsman of 2017 by the Croatian Olympic Committee and Croatia’s best sportsman of 2017!



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