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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Croatia's rise from obscurity
Croatia celebrate after clinching third place at France 98
Croatia celebrate after clinching third place at France 98
Croatia's international football history has been short but also spectacular.

The country gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1990 and Croatia - the football nation - was recognised by Fifa in 1992.

The country's top club sides Dinamo and Hajduk already had a good pedigree in European football.

But it was now time for the national team to display their prowess on the international stage.

They missed the chance to try and qualify for the 1992 European Championships, but set their sights firmly on making it to England for Euro 96.

Croatia history
World Cup Finals
1998 - third place
Star players
Robert Jarni
Robert Prosinecki
Davor Suker
Zvonimir Boban

The Croatian team, featuring players such as Robert Jarni, Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban, cruised through qualifying, losing only one game - 1-0 away to Ukraine - en route to England.

Once there, they got past the group stage courtesy of two victories over Turkey and Denmark.

But their involvement was ended at the quarter-final stage where they were beaten 2-1 by eventual champions Germany.

In qualifying for the 1998 World Cup, Croatia were equally impressive. They lost only one qualifying game as they booked their place in France with ease.

Such form saw them touted as many people's dark horses for the title.

Davor Suker was Croatia's hot shot at France 98
Davor Suker was Croatia's hot shot at France 98

And they started well. Easy wins over Jamaica and Japan in the group phase meant a meeting with Romania, winners of England's group, in the first knockout round.

A twice-taken penalty from Davor Suker settled the tightest of contests with the Romanians and set-up a quarter-final clash with an off-colour Germany side.

Germany, who were fielding players nearing the end of their careers, such as Jürgen Kohler, Lothar Matthäus, Thomas Hassler and Jürgen Klinsmann, were thumped 3-0.

Incredibly Croatia, in their first World Cup ever, were now within one match of the final itself.

Now hosts France stood in their way.

Suker put Miroslav Blazevic's side ahead, but a defensive error allowed right-back Lilian Thuram to equalise with his first ever goal for France.

And just minutes later Thuram scored again to put France into the final and end brave Croatia's dream.

Croatia beat the Netherlands in the third/fourth place play-off but the after effects of coming so close to the ultimate prize and missing out lasted for a long time.

They miserably failed to qualify for Euro 2000, meaning they will be doubly-determined to make up for lost time once the finals get under way in the Far East.

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