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Croatia discover winning ways again
After rising to the dizzy heights during the 1998 FIFA World Cup France where they finished in an amazing third place, Croatia have since then been tumbling down the world rankings. Missing out on the UEFA European Championship 2000 Belgium/The Netherlands combined with other bad results left Croatia with just three wins in 15 matches following their 1998 success.
Now it seems they have regained their footing after qualifying for their second consecutive FIFA World Cup finals in their short existence as an independent national squad. Although no Croatian player would dare to hope for another bronze medal finish at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan, the team is a confident mix of young and experienced.
The squad features several new faces, but many of the stars of the 1998 team remain, including Golden Boot winner Davor Suker (currently without a club), Robert Prosinecki (Portsmouth), Mario Stanic (Chelsea), Robert Jarni (Las Palmas), Zvonimir Soldo (Stuttgart), Igor Stimac (Hajduk Split), Igor Tudor (Juventus) and Dario Simic (Inter Milan).
With these players who have played in Europe's top leagues for years now, and the fresh talent of Aston Villa striker Bosko Balaban, Bayern Munich's brothers Robert and Niko Kovac, as well as powerful attacker Alen Boksic (Middlesbrough) who missed both the UEFA European Championship England 1996 and the 1998 FIFA World Cup due to injuries, Croatia could once again be a dark horse.
Croatia do have their problems, however, most notably how to balance the ageing stars -- Suker, Jarni, Prosinecki and Soldo -- with the up-and-coming talent. Yet morale is high, particularly since the arrival of new manager Mirko Jozic. After taking over from legendary coach Miroslav "Ciro" Blazevic, Jokic lead Croatia to an undefeated finish in qualification under his tutelage with five wins and three draws, taking them on the crest of a wave into Korea and Japan.
Significant past players:
Zvonimir Boban, Slaven Bilic, Drazan Jerkovic (former Yugoslavia), Josip Skoblar (former Yugoslavia).
-- 3rd, 1998 FIFA World Cup France
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