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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
First cab off the rank is the biggest game from Euro '96 qualifying and our win over Italy in Palermo. Alen Bokšić out injured and Prosinečki also not 100% fit. This was also the only game Tomislav Ivić took charge of (at the time the HNS technical director) while Ćiro Blažević was dealing with legal issues from his time in France.

Davor Šuker with a brace against an Italian team lead by Roberto Baggio, just coming off their run to the WC final in the US.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
While our opener against Turkey at the Euros in England was our first major tourney game and was made memorable by Goran Vlaović's late winner, the win over Denmark, the reigning European champions, in the next game is probably one of the most famous ever by the NT.

A dull first half but a second 45 minutes of sheer bliss for any NT fan. No Bokšić again after picking up an injury in the opener, however Šuker starred, scoring one with that unforgettable chip and another from the spot (which he created with a sublime through ball for Stanić). He also assisted on Boban's goal and had a lob attempt from almost inside his own half that in itself was memorable.


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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
We followed up a controversial and disappointing Euro quarter-final exit with a disastrous France '98 qualifying campaign.

Come the final game we were in third spot one point behind Greece, who were hosting the group-leading Denmark. Our only hope of seeing France was via the play-offs. We got the job done in Slovenia and only thanks to some heroics by Schmeichel were the Danes able to scrape their way out of Athens with a 0-0 result.

The atmosphere around the team leading up to the first play-off leg against Ukraine in Zagreb was poor - Ćiro Blažević was public enemy number one and the standard XI we'd seen for the previous 3-4 seasons was no longer automatic.

Bokšić out again and Asanović by this time had lost his starting spot. Štimac was also on the outer. Despite all of this, Bilić got an early headed goal on a Prosinečki assist and Vlaović's brilliantly taken strike early in the second half put Croatia en route for the WC in France.


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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
We got a favourable group at the WC and were already through to the second round before facing Argentina in the last group game. Most significant thing to come out of the encounter was that it was Prosinečki's last game in the starting XI until the third-place play-off. From this point on Blažević chose to play a traditional DM, freeing up Boban for a (slightly) more advanced role.

We got over the Romanians in the second round and set up a revenge clash with the Germans in the quarter-final. After initially being under the pump we found our feet and the game turned when Wörns was sent off late in the first half. Robert Jarni beat Köpke with a nice strike from outside the box on the stroke of HT and goals by Vlaović and Šuker late ensured a historic win for Croatia.


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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Following up the historic win in the quarter-final was the sad exit to the hosts France in the semi-final. The glory of hitting the lead in a WC semi-final was too quickly followed up by Boban's blunder and our hopes of becoming World Champions were dashed.

For the third-place play-off against the Dutch Blažević shuffled things around. Soldo moved back into defence in place of the suspended Šimić and Jurčić once again moved into DM. Boban played off Šuker up front and Prosinečki was restored to the XI.

Some Ladić heroics and goals each from Prosinečki and Šuker allowed us to positively cap off a great WC. Šuker's strike also gave him his 6th goal and the Golden Boot.



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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
After the glorious WC run we again botched the next campaign, this time losing the opening Euro 2000 qualifier away to Ireland and scrambling from that point on.

With two games to go we had home games against both of the teams sitting above us. First one in line was Ireland and nothing but a win would suffice. Prosinečki was retired from the NT and both Bokšić and Boban out injured.

Stanić had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside in the first half but it was again Šuker who came to the rescue, getting on the end of a hit-and-hope ball from Robert Kovač in injury time. Hard to imagine anyone else being able to score in similar fashion.


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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
The final group game in Zagreb against Yugoslavia was a do-or-die, a win potentially giving us direct qualification or at the very least a play-off berth. The game was obviously made even bigger because of the opposition.

Captain Boban was still out injured and he was joined on the sidelines by Bilić, Štimac and Šimić. Unusually, Bokšić was fit and in the XI.

The game started brilliantly, Bokšić scoring on a through pass by Šuker to give us the lead. However, two identical Mihajlović free-kicks six minutes apart and two inept reactions by Ladić lead to two goals for the Yugoslavs. The Mirković red card in the first half gave us hope and a Stanić equaliser relatively early in the second made victory seem possible. Unfortunately, a string of missed chances confirmed our first non-qualification for a major tournament and effectively the end of the Ćiro Blažević era (although he'd officially lose the job early in WC 2002 qualifying).


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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Our start to the next qualifying campaign was another poor one and after draws in the opening two games Blažević was replaced by Mirko Jozić. Ironically, Ćiro's last game in charge (1-1 with Scotland at home) also marked the return of Robert Prosinečki to international football.

Croatia got their campaign together under Jozić but still found itself in a final day must-win encounter against Belgium where only a win would give us direct qualification.

Jozić preferred Bokšić and Vlaović up front to Šuker, and it was Vlaović who won a first half penalty. However, Prosinečki was unable to convert and with 15 minutes to go things began to look ominous. Jozić brought on Balaban who was able to get onto a beautifully weighted ball from Prosinečki and cut it back for Bokšić to seal the win and direct passage to Japan/Korea.


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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
The WC opener against Mexico was a huge let down, a 0-1 reverse against Mexico including a Boris Živković red card. Some of the veterans clearly showed their age and it was obvious we had too many of them in the XI.

For the next game against Italy, Jozić dropped Šuker and Prosinečki in favour of Vugrinec and Rapaić while Šarić came in for the suspended Živković. After a good first half showing we fell behind early in the second and hopes of another good WC showing looked gone. Enter Ivica Olić, the youngster coming on shortly after the Italian goal and it was he who tucked home a Jarni cross from the left (who can forget Olić's celebration and the seeming eternity it took for them to "fix" his jersey?).
A couple of minutes later Rapaić somehow managed to lob Buffon with a deflected effort and we were in the lead. A bit of good fortune and some questionable refereeing helped us hold on for a memorable win. Unfortunately, the final group game against an already-eliminated Ecuador was another disaster but the Italian game still goes down as one of the classic NT performances.



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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
After the WC failure, Jozić was replaced by Otto Barić. Naturally, this didn't prevent another poor opening to the next qualifying campaign, with a home draw to Estonia and loss in Bulgaria capping a disappointing 2002 for NT fans.

The next game, a home fixture against Belgium was viewed as a must-win, and Barić had spent the previous months searching far and wide for options. Somehow he found Dado Pršo, and the big man didn't disappoint, netting on his debut and almost instantly becoming a cult figure among fans. Barić also handed Darijo Srna his competitive debut and it was he who opened the scoring with a long range effort in the first half.

 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks boys, I was inspired by the win in Slovakia, felt like it could be one of those games that marks the start of a new chapter in the NT story...and then Azerbaijan happened :D

Btw, it's bugging me a bit that I can't find an extended clip of the 4-0 against Belgium...I can't remember exactly where Živković lined up...he may actually have been at RB or CM...I know Otto threw him around everywhere...small detail but since I've gone to the effort may as well try to be as accurate as possible.

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
After the Belgium home game we managed to string a few wins together but stumbled again in the second last game, losing away to those same Belgians. This left us in the now all-too-familiar position of needing three points from our final group game just to make the play-offs. The only bit of good news was that our opponents Bulgaria were already through, and would perhaps come to Zagreb in a relaxed mood.

A big boost for the team was the return of Pršo, who'd missed the Belgium loss due to injury. After a scoreless first half Herr Otto brought on Olić and less than three mintes later it was he who got the winning goal. Pršo did all the hard work, holding off and then beating a couple of defenders on the right before delivering his cross. Olić should've had another one, again feeding off Pršo, but in the end that one goal was enough to set up a play-off encounter with Slovenia.


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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
The play-off encounter with Slovenia was always going to be a tight, tense affair. They still had the core of the team that got them to Euro 2000 and WC 2002 while we were still very much in a transitional phase.
The first leg in Zagreb ended 1-1, giving the Slovenes the edge going into the second leg in Ljubljana.

Barić was heavily criticised for his selection in the first leg and, perhaps as a result, decided for some big changes in the second - in came Šimunić, Rosso, Srna, Rapaić and the debutant Tomo Šokota. After an even first half with few chances, disaster struck with Tudor receiving a second yellow just before the hour mark. The Slovene crowd along with their fist-pumping captain Pavlin celebrated as if they'd scored. Luckily, the now festive mood at Bežigrad wouldn't last long, a mere two or three minutes after going down to 10 men Croatia scored. Šokota controlled a Babić pass down the left, turned his man and dinked a neat ball between two Slovene defenders for Pršo, who controlled and poked it under the Slovene keeper. Croatia held on and Otto and the boys were off to Portugal.


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The play-off encounter with Slovenia was always going to be a tight, tense affair. They still had the core of the team that got them to Euro 2000 and WC 2002 while we were still very much in a transitional phase.
The first leg in Zagreb ended 1-1, giving the Slovenes the edge going into the second leg in Ljubljana.

Barić was heavily criticised for his selection in the first leg and, perhaps as a result, decided for some big changes in the second - in came Šimunić, Rosso, Srna, Rapaić and the debutant Tomo Šokota. After an even first half with few chances, disaster struck with Tudor receiving a second yellow just before the hour mark. The Slovene crowd along with their fist-pumping captain Pavlin celebrated as if they'd scored. Luckily, the now festive mood at Bežigrad wouldn't last long, a mere two or three minutes after going down to 10 men Croatia scored. Šokota controlled a Babić pass down the left, turned his man and dinked a neat ball between two Slovene defenders for Pršo, who controlled and poked it under the Slovene keeper. Croatia held on and Otto and the boys were off to Portugal.


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I forgot what a nail biter that tie was. Good stuff on this thread, Suho :thumbsup:


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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
After scraping through to the tournament we opened with a winnable game against the Swiss. Barić's selection again came under question as he somehow managed to field a team with four central defenders and four attackers in his now standard 4-4-2, leaving out the likes of Rapaić and Srna. Before the tournament there were hopes he'd call up the young Niko Kranjčar but Otto resisted, preferring the veteran Nenad Bjelica as a surprise inclusion.

For the next game against France, Olić and Mornar were dropped for Rapaić and Rosso, while captain Živković made way for Tudor (coming back from suspension).

The first half was completely dominated by the French and we were lucky to be only one down (a Tudor own goal) at the interval. With the Croatian fans getting restless and the team looking down and out, potential disaster loomed in the second 45. However, a different Croatia came out after the break and within seven minutes Croatia was up 2-1. First, Rosso won a penalty which Rapaić converted and then Pršo, played in by Rapaić, capitalized on some clumsy French defending to lash a left foot shot past Barthez in the French goal. Unfortunately, a poor back pass by Tudor led to a French equaliser (a possible hand ball by Trezeguet not picked up by the refs) and the game ended 2-2. No NT fan can forget Mornar's missed chance at the death, a chance that if buried would've brought us another famous win.


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Yeah, great thread & work Suho! Brings back lots of memories both during & post match. Unfortunately, the most vivid one seems to be emerging into the dawn light from the Cro Club in Punchbowl, in a total daze, dumbstruck & bewildered, after the 2-2 draw with Yugo. It was surreal, hardly anyone spoke, all ruminating on the missed opportunity for qualification. Sh!t, I've depressed myself again..."think about all the wins, think about all the wins..."
 

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Yeah, great thread & work Suho! Brings back lots of memories both during & post match. Unfortunately, the most vivid one seems to be emerging into the dawn light from the Cro Club in Punchbowl, in a total daze, dumbstruck & bewildered, after the 2-2 draw with Yugo. It was surreal, hardly anyone spoke, all ruminating on the missed opportunity for qualification. Sh!t, I've depressed myself again..."think about all the wins, think about all the wins..."
Punchbowl. :proud:

You been there recently, to the club?
 
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