As a whole, how is Croatian football doing top to bottom the past few years? I’m not just talking about the Vatreni on the international side of things, but I’m including the entire HNL as well as HNL clubs playing in Europe. Across the board, is Croatian football meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, or not meeting expectations at all for you?
Let’s start with Luka Modrić and the Croatian national side. Grade: A
The only thing preventing me from giving them an A+ is a little gold star above the HNS crest. These guys made it to the World Cup Final after going to extra time in three straight knockout round matches. INSANE! But the national side does not simply receive an A-grade for the 2018 World Cup. The Vatreni have not missed an international tournament since 2010. They did not make it out of group at EURO 2012, being given the ‘Group of Death’ with tournament finalists Italy and Spain. In 2014 at the World Cup in Brazil, Croatia could not defeat Mexico in the last match of group play to book a spot in the final 16. Since then, Croatia has made it to the knockout rounds in three straight tournaments. 2016 saw them top group before losing 1-0 to eventual Euro champions Portugal in extra time. We all know what happened in 2018. And at EURO 2020, we all witnessed and incredible 2-goal comeback in the last 10 minutes to send Spain to extra time. Could you ask for anything more from a nation of 4 million?
HNL clubs (**cough** Dinamo Zagreb) in European play: Grade: A-
Dinamo Zagreb has carried the Croatian flag for the HNL in Europe for the past two decades. There’s no denying it and there’s really not more to say on the topic. And for being a top feeder club for all the feeder leagues across Europe, Dinamo has been doing one hell of a job! The question is: when will another Croatian club join the party?
Let’s look at Dinamo’s ridiculous run in Europe since 2015 (and remember, I’m a Hajdukovac but you have to give credit where credit is due):
-2015: Champions League group stage (hosted Arsenal and Bayern Munich at Maksimir)
-2016: Champions League group stage (hosted Juventus and Sevilla at Maksimir)
-2017: Off year for Dinamo. Finished 2nd behind Rijeka and did not qualify for Europe
-2018: Europa League Round of 16. Lost to Portuguese club Benfica
-2019: Champions League group stage. Defeated Atalanta 4-0 in opening match. Hosted Man City at Maksimir.
-2020: Europa League quarterfinalists. Lost to champions Villareal. Defeated Tottenham 3-0 in extra time in Round of 16 after losing 1st leg 2-0.
-2021: Europa League Round of 32. Lost to Sevilla.
This is an impressive résumé for any club in Europe, let alone a team from Croatia. Dinamo is always in the mix. Whether its Champions League group stage, making a run in Europa League OR breaking North London hearts…they always play mighty minnow against the best of them. This season, Dinamo are already guaranteed group stage in CL or Europa depending on how they finish in the Playoff Round. It would be nice if Hajduk could join them in group play in the Conference League (Europe’s 3rd-tier tournament) but they received the worst draw in being paired with Villareal. Hopefully Hajduk can have a good showing to boost their confidence level for the HNL season.
The HNL: Grade: D+
For the past 17 years, the Croatian Prva Liga has been unwatchable. There’s no parity. Dinamo wins. And Dinamo usually wins by a landslide. Dinamo Zagreb has won every single HNL title since 2005 minus the odd outlier, when Rijeka took the crown in 2017 by two points over Dinamo. It’s not fun. No one cares. No one goes to the games. No one watches the games on TV. It’s unbearable.
Sure it would be nice if Osijek and Rijeka could keep some pressure on Dinamo after the New Year, but only one thing can fix the HNL and get people watching again: a Hajduk championship. Only a Hajduk title will start the shift around Croatia when it comes to their domestic league. When Rijeka won it in 2017, it was a shock for a week, the summer hit, and no one cared once the new season began and Dinamo restarted their annual rampage. What will change is when Hajduk is top dog in Croatia and Dinamo fear their rivals as they walk into Maksimir. Splićani are the best fans in Croatia. They just are. Especially when it comes to Hajduk at Poljud. For the HNL to be interesting again, Hajduk have to be good. But not just good…champions. And that can very well happen this year.
Overall grade of Croatian football at the moment: B-
Big game tomorrow and I’ll be traveling back home from my camping trip! I’m hoping to get home by the second half…I just hope Dinamo plays well cause I get the feeling that Hajduk are going to make this count for them! Hajduk’s season has started out in the right foot and they’re on a high at the moment…their coach has done a fabulous job!
I’ll be watching and as a Hajduk fan I would be happy with a draw.
I think Dinamo have the better team but Hajduk has the better coaching and overall team atmosphere.
A lot of talk that HNL is improving which is probably true on the domestic stage. The HNL is becoming more competative with Rijeka, Osijek and Hajduk beginning to challenge Dinamo. Lokomotiva and Gorica are also no pushovers.
However the strength of the domestic league is measured when you come up against European opposition in UEFA club comps. This is where our clubs struggle to make any impact apart from Dinamo and every few years Rijeka, hence our association coefficient is dropping (currently 18th).
The biggest problem is money and apart from Dinamo, our other clubs don’t have it and that is why they struggle in Europe. Dinamo buys pretty much all the talented players in Croatia leaving very little for the rest of the clubs. Once the talent pool is depleted you need to go and buy foreigners and without money, you are buying D grade players which has been the case with Hajduk in recent times.
It’s still early in the season, so it can still get competitive, though I expect Dinamo and Hajduk to be in one class, and the rest fighting for third place, with Osijek looking incomplete to start the year. I like watching the HNL because it’s cool to see a mix of veterans who at some point earned call-ups to the repka or had some success abroad leading groups of youngsters who are only just beginning their professional football careers. It’s interesting, for example, to see Josip Pivarić and Duje Čop as playmaking midfielders. It isn’t the world’s best football in a technical sense, but it’s entertaining to watch for its own reasons. Croatia being a desirable place for foreign players to live and gain exposure to European scouts, I also predict that the league will continue to improve by attracting more foreigners who actually play well, not only at Dinamo.
Just curious how many of you actually watched our league last season?
I watched most of the games and I can tell you when Dinamo played Istra or Gorica or Sibenik….they were usually challenged!
We fall short in preparation for Europe competitions and this is exactly why we have a bad coefficient! We have a “decent” league but not a good league. Too many of our clubs do not properly strategize for Europe because they are very thin on their bench and then they’re also concerned about our own league!
I’d bet anyone that one of our lower tiered teams would give any Scottish or Danish club a major run for their money if it was during a week there weren’t any extra games to be played! I’m not saying we have a great league but on a good day, Gorica or Sibenik or Lokomotiva or any of those middle of the league teams can put up a good result! We just heavily suck at game management! We don’t know how to manage games and prepare strategically…we always shit the bid and yet any one of those clubs will give both Hajduk and Dinamo a run for their money.
I hang around a lot of older heads who have been watching Serie A and La Liga for a long time, and depth is the biggest thing for them.
They recognize that there are a lot of games to play and a lot of competitions. They’ll acknowledge that their teams can beat the top tier teams, but they’ll stop short of saying that they could win it all if they don’t have a proper 18-man rotation for the year. They value depth more than having top name players.
The HNL has some talented players, but not a lot of depth…so it catches up with you.
A perfect example is how Rijeka was punching above its weight in Europe, getting great one-time results against Sevilla, Milan, Feyenoord, Real Sociedad, etc. but not deep enough to do it consistently and progress.
I’m not concerned about the state of the HNL because it is trending in the right direction.
It has improved quite a bit over the past 10 years. Before that, there were teams not paying their players, a lot of first teams were folding (Kamen Ingrad, Karlovac, Varteks), and we were not even coming close to qualifying in any European League (losing badly to teams like Debrecen).
We at least have one team (Dinamo) who is doing pretty well financially and in European competitions.
Hajduk is trending upwards very hard and could finally be on par with Dinamo this season.
Osijek is a rebuilding team, and are investing in their team, coaching, and infrastructure (and hopefully the results will come).
Rijeka has been pretty decent thus far, considering they are a low budget team, and hopefully their youth rebuild program pans out for them.
Even Lokomotiva has been churning out some talent for us recently.
We’ll see where this goes in the next few years. I just hope that the big-4 teams can invest in new stadiums (Osijek has started) and we can improve the experience of the product and get more fans to come out
Good points. I also believe the HNL quality has been improving, and they just need to continue in the right direction. The biggest challenge is the stadium infrastructure. Osijek will have a nice new stadium (hopefully soon…it seems to be taking a long time to finish), Rijeka had plans for a beautiful new build (hopefully they find a way to make it happen), Poljud seems like a nice structure (probably just needs a facelift), and Maksimir needs to be blown-up. Dinamo have enough money to build a new stadium, but for some reason they can’t come to an agreement with the city of Zagreb. If they had a modern new stadium, i’m sure it will attract more fans to come out with their families to enjoy the experience together. New stadiums would generate more money for the league, which will result in a better product, which would bring even more fans, etc.
You can’t really set project management deadlines with mafia money ha ha.
Pampas stadium will be done when it’s done.
I just can’t believe how quickly the face of a team can change?! I find it shocking that Gorica, Istra and Rijeka are all in the bottom half of the table so far. All 3 of those teams created some havoc in the league last year and yet they’re currently sucking ass!?
But this is a weird start to the season (Dinamo choked points away to Varteks too).
Seems like all the top teams fell asleep in the first couple of rounds.
Hajduk need to capitalize on this and hit the ground running.
There is so much to wish for in regards to so many who are suffering on so many levels in this world today…. Most of us reading this can be so grateful for so many reasons outside of the fact that we were born in this beautiful culture of being Croatian…
If I could wish the Perfect Sports Wish it would be that by the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023 the following manifests itself for all of us:
Croatia wins the 2022 World Cup in Soccer
Filip Hrgovic is crowned the Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World
Stipe Miocic is crowned the UFC Heavyweight Champion of the World
I think ALL are possible. What I love the MOST is that the leaders on all these Croatian Representatives are modest, humble, hard working, committed, altruistic Humans. Great Role Models for not only Croatians but all young boys and girls.
That is my Christmas Sports Wish.
This is fantastic. Thankyou. Unfortunately its summer in the northern hemisphere and altruism can never work within a profit driven society. End of. Hey dont shoot the messanger
I have phrased that part wrong as I meant that the Croatian Athletes themselves are humble, committed, modest… “leaders” as the players themselves, Yes…. definitely not the governing body’s in any of these sports.
Dont forget about Croatia winning the Euros in basketball in September
Our talent is A+, we need some investment in the league. Stadiums and higher quality foreign players. This is just about money. We have a big name. The world knows croatian football.
National team- B
Croatian Club(s) in europe B-
The national team did exceptionally well at world cup 2018. Beat the odds and showed the world something about our country.
HNL. D because of the infrastructure. Teams would be able to compete better if money from HNS was distributed better. Oh and less corruption. lol.
Croatian clubs in europe is fairly irrelevant despite dinamo doing well. they do well, sell their team, rebuild, and go back to have the same outcome. recently this has been different with the livakovic orsic petkovic era but that’s also because no one wants to buy them. nevertheless the cycle continues.
Brutal honesty is where we need to frame this conversation.
I think that a D+ is a correct assessment because that’s pretty much where our coefficient stands more or less. Neither Dinamo or Hajduk would ever stand a chance against a team like Real Madrid, Villareal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City (which unfortunately as a Hajkdukovac I think Hajduk will lose that matchup Villareal). They would have to have very deep runs in these tournaments, and by that I mean into the Semifinal rounds at minimum at the very least on the Europa League. They need to start matching up to teams like Villareal, Barcelona, Inter Milan to be in the likes of a B or A rating. And given that they can loose to teams such as Ajax, Belgian or Hungarian league teams I think we are not even a C at this stage.
That said Dinamo has definitely done better than Hajduk in this respect to hold onto somewhat of a coefficient.
Hajduk beating Vitoria in the last game is a good start and Dinamo taking out Ludogrets is also a good start. They both need to build off of this.
Just being honest here.
So you’re going to ignore the fact that this team is a defending World Cup finalist and has potential to make a run again in this November’s World Cup (and has a lot of youth on the team that will continue the trend in future tournaments)….
all because of a coefficient that is heavily dependent on what Hajduk and Osijek do in Europa league tournaments?
Not it’s not ignoring the National Squad, and that squad does have the potential to go far and is the sole reason for carrying the coefficient for Croatian soccer mostly. I have remarked positively on that as has the writer, even though there are still some issues there depending on who Dalic chooses. The article is centred on the discussion of the HNL league itself and if we are discussing the league then think it is a fair assessment because the league doesn’t have the capacity to make a deep impact on the tournaments listed.
Look if Dinamo, Hajduk, Rijeka, or Osijek could even make a run the conference league I would probably grade a bit higher. But when you compare them against the teams I have mentioned there is no contest there, to be frank.
So noone is ignoring the the great achievements of national squad, it’s simply putting that aside and discussing the HNL league itself. You have approach the argument from that standpoint in fairness to the writer and their perspective. So in this sense I agree with the writer.
So what grade does Scotland get?
Their coefficient is amazing (9th in Europe). According to the way you are scoring things, the state of Scottish football is better than the state of Croatian football.
Is Danish football in a poor state?
They almost won the Euros, but their coefficient ranking is bad like ours.
I think you need to weigh things better between club and country level performance and not put so much into these UEFA country coefficient rankings.
You could probably score the HNL and its clubs a D+, but not the overall score.
Give the National Team performance an A and the HNL club performance a D, and probably average it out.
We are our own harshest critics.
What we have accomplished is truly mind boggling when you factor in everything that we DONT have going for us..too many to list starting with our inability to poach a world class coach our meager population,our lack of infrastructure both physically and monetary etc etc
Look at Italy missing out on the World Cup 2 times in a row.We would riot!!
Turkey with 2 big clubs and a population that dwarfs us yet they continue to flounder.
Poland with Lewa some other nice players and a big populace…nothing to show for it?
Russia ….Belgium the ultimate hype machine the last decade …we can go on and on!!
We are truly blessed yet we still bitch!
It’s the Croatian way,and it’s good we are always striving for better but on occasion we need to realize how fortunate we truly are as football fans!
Your mostly right, but the one thing that probably matters more than anything is genetics, our little country produces athletes, and more importantly soccer players, at the highest clip imaginable! And it’s not just people born in hrvatska, it’s the blood…
and we all know this is not a new thing, people from other parts of the world have regarded the balkans (mostly Croatians) as basically a top 5 hotbed of talent for 75 years
All it takes is a couple things to go right for us in a generation and we can contend for titles, some countries and areas of the world need alot of things to happen to sniff qualification in to tournaments
National side A? – nema pojma. Dom in goal and no certified number 1 striker? This is new domain for Croatia. We have never had this kind of weakness in key spots. I do agree some good defensive players coming so it’s a bit of a trade off – but A is very generous. I say B- at best. Nontheless, great topic and you’ll get some great debate.
B- is a little too harsh. It’s gotta be B+.
Remember, this is a grade based on the state of Croatian football. It’s not a grade of our upcoming World Cup squad.
We may not have a ‘A’ grade striker right now, but we do have several intriguing striker options coming up the pipeline in Ljubicic, Roko and Musa. Also, Budimir and Krama aren’t terrible. They shouldn’t bring the overall grade that far down. Krama has actually been scoring, and Budimir hasn’t even played with Sosa once yet.
Those Dalic experimental UNL and Friendly games ruined our ability to assess our talent (since we haven’t even see them play together much). But when we finally rolled out a decent squad, we suddenly outplay Denmark and France.
Our midfield is A+ (one of the best in the World) and it doesn’t look like that is letting up. We have World Class ones now, and we look to have several coming up the pipeline.
Our historically mediocre defensive talent (which was always propped up by our midfield) is also probably around an A or A+.
Gvardiol is arguably the best young CB in the world (under 21). Sosa, Sutalo, Stanisic, Juranovic, all look great (and are all very young too). We still have guys like Erlic, Duje, Pongracic, etc who are servicable and may continue to improve as well…and we apparently also have another Gvardiol caliber talent (Katinic?) on the Dinamo youth team. Lots and lots of current and future talent. None of them even close to 30 yet.
Goalkeeping brings down the grade because we’ve never been great at it, and we don’t really have anything coming up the pipeline.
Livakovic is bad, but Ivusic may not be (we need to try him more).
I think all we need is an average goalkeeper. If we can score one there, then we win a tournament.
But yeah, whether we luck out with an average keeper or not, this grade is a D.
(with prime Subasic largely bringing that grade up)
We need to hire some former goalkeeper švabo to set up shop in Croatia and create some goalkeeping academies.
I’m sure Manuel Neuer would do it if we get Thompson to personally invite him.
“I’m sure Manuel Neuer would do it if we get Thompson to personally invite him”
This made my lunch. Thank you.
Some really good points- but goalie really worries me present and future- we never had bad goalies so it’s uncharted
Agree we do not get an A for the national team, maybe on past performance, but not current state. No striker, no real goal scoring threat at all. And a poor keeper. We are a B, B+ at best.
The HNS and the Croatian government should probably be graded too.
We spend the least of all EU nations in sport, and our embarrassing and crumbling stadiums are still not being addressed (save for the one being built privately in Osijek by some Hungarian oligarch).
The fact that we are a top team in the World is a miracle.
The country is not run well. There is also a lot of deep seated corruption, just to do a minor construction project is a bureaucratic nightmare!! Nevermind a stadium. It’s unfortunate because Croatians are hard working individuals, along with having big hearts they are some of the greatest people you can meet. But this is just the reality..
this is total fantasy, but…
if Mandzukic and/or Subasic played again for National team – would they be effective?
I don’t think so because Mandzo had an injury and we saw that from his last stint with Juve. Suba also had that injury against Russia which he may have never really got over as well.
I think we need to set our sights on newer option and talent.
Maybe as ppl have said Lovre Kalinic or Ivusic in net. Lovre has had a great season from what I have heard on this site, and Ivusic from what I saw did really well in Nations league and had a great season too. Livakovic is just not that keeper for us unfortunately. Yet some pundits from Croatia seem to believe so, not really sure what they see that I am some other do not.
I am more concerned over our national team players.
Thats it. Kovacic gonna to sit on bench soon.
Musa has not played a single min despite being fit.
If brozovic moves to liverpool, he will need time to adjust and has no guarantee first team football.
Caleta car on bench.
Stanisic 3rd choice RB behind marao and pavard
Barisic is already condemned in rangers
If sosa moves to man city, prepare to play 2nd fiddle to cancelo.
Perisic no guarantee a starter now as sness played well and scored in 1st match
Vlasic is condemned in west ham.
I hope gvardiol does not move to chelsea or man city
Pongracic not even on bench
Lovren not even playing
Is this a bot?
I just realize too the same post was made under another article. Weird.
I don’t know that Kovacic has ever been a strong enough starter for Croatia, I am not doubting his ability to play, I just am not sure how he meshes with the overall national squad. A controversial statement I am well aware, but when compared to the other two of Modric and Brozovic, I didn’t see it in the Nations League as much or in 2018.
I am not again saying I do not like him, he just doesn’t have what the other two have in terms of overall contribution both to club and Nation. Brozo won best in Serie and Modric won Legend with Real Madrid… I know not everyone can achieve these accolades, but it’s my view none the less. So as far as Kovacic goes, I would rather see Majer, Sucic, or Ljubicic in place to have some younger player development. Kovacic is a substitute to me, especially based on the form for the National squad that I have seen but maybe I am wrong. Either way I still wish him the best in development, and hope that he proves himself either way, as I wish all players the best. I would love to see him become Modric replacement when Modric is ready to retire, but again I just don’t see it.
Brozo had the opportunity to move to Liverpool in the past and I don’t think he will personally, he has a good thing going at Inter and just signed a continued contract there. My hats off to him for the incredible player he has become, and that he is. I have become fond of his style of play and the player that he is. I think he is very underrated. Should be winning more awards than he has in the past really.
Caleta, Barisic, Vlasic, Pongrancic have a long way to go in my view to develop their form.
I’ve said it before and I will say again, Lovren, Vida, and Vrsaljko all need to retire their time is done…I am sorry but it’s true. We have younger players in those roles who are faster, and quite frankly better in Stanisic, Gvardiol, Sosa, Sutalo, and Erlic. It’s more than obvious at this point.
Perisic just came off of an injury so Conte is probably just being cautious and said as much in an interview. 100 percent the second best player on our squad next to Modric, and without whom we basically cannot score. I hope that he is the one to de-thrown Suker for international goals scored.
We have to keep in mind that it’s still the beginning of the season so things can change at this point.
People have also been boasting about Melnjak, Baturina, and Biuk…There may be something to these players as well. Melnjak certainly made an impact for Hajduk against Vitoria in the Conference game. Baturina seems to be making an impact with Dinamo as well.
As far as the comparison between Petkovic and Livaja…that some pundits over in Croatia are making I don’t think there is a comparison to be made. Petkovic was non present all last season and doesn’t deserve a call up at all. I would give Livaja one more shot in both Nations League and World Cup because of the goal contributions last season and he already has 3 goals this season, so we will see if he can duplicate this success this season, I for one and routing for the guy.
Orsic didn’t do the best in Nation’s League but I still think he deserves a call up again for his contributions in Euro Cup, and he has been an influence for Dinamo.
Ivanusec, I am not sure who is in favour here he has done nothing as far as I can tell for the National Squad. His stint in the Nations League in the game against Austria, he was definitely a liability in the middle of the field.
Just my thoughts, agree/disagree??
I agree kova has always not sort of fit but truly he seems to be finding his touch more and more for the repka
But truly he has hungry kids like majer and sucic gunning for him
Is broz really gonna move?
I like him to stay in inter and keep playing important time for them
He would be important anywhere most likely but I prefer him stay in Italy
Lots of potential in our young back line
Ivusic or kalinic should probably get the call at this point for first game World Cup
Ivusic sample size is small but he hasn’t really done anything like an oh no moment
And plus he beat France….
Say what you want, that’s legit
I still think we can score by commitee, however a striker will emerge soon, it has to
As a whole, broke as we are, poorly as it can be run. No one wants to hear Croatia’s name being called drawn against their country
And for that I am certainly proud
Very pessimistic outlook AZ.
FYI, Vlasic will be playing at Torino under Juric this season. There is no question in my mind that he will not succeed. He will be on fire for the WC.
Brozovic has been awarded the role of second captain behind Handanovic. Not something that would happen if he was going to Liverpool. De Jong can go suck a dick — he isn’t marginalizing Kovacic.
I hope that your right about Kova and Vlasic.