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I look at that team (even minus Bokšić) and I can't help but think they're better than the 2018 version. At the very least, I think their best football was better. Šuker was obviously amazing.
They are better. Even when we lost to Germany in 96 we outplayed them even being a man down for about 40 minutes. Boksic unfortunately was hurt but what a player he was when he was in top form. Suker and Boksic were probably the best tandem in Europe at the time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #42 ·
With the Bilić era now over, Croatia would enter a period of coaching turmoil, with the next three appointees failing too see out a complete qualifying campaign.

First one up was Igor Štimac, the one-time wannabe HNS president, TV commentator and leader of the football mafia in the south.

He got the WC 2014 campaign off to great start with three victories and a good draw away to Belgium.

After four games Croatia sat equal top and prepared to welcome Serbia in Zagreb, needless to say one of the most eagerly awaited matches in NT history.

Yugoslavia had essentially knocked us out of Euro 2000 and we'd waited long enough for our chance to get one back. Biggest team news was the international debut of 18 year-old Mateo Kovačić, with Štimac opting not to use a defensive midfielder, instead lining up with four creative, ball-playing options.

Mandžukić opened the scoring midway through the first half after he combined with Rakitić and Olić to punish a terrible blunder by the Serbian left back. Some 15 minutes later Olić chested in a bouncing Srna free kick from the right to make it 2-0. The game didn't reach any great heights but the result was exactly what the doctor ordered. The win over our biggest rivals allowed us to keep pace with the Belgians and Štimac began to dream of Brazil and the Copacabana.
 

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With the Bilić era now over, Croatia would enter a period of coaching turmoil, with the next three appointees failing too see out a complete qualifying campaign.

First one up was Igor Štimac, the one-time wannabe HNS president, TV commentator and leader of the football mafia in the south.

He got the WC 2014 campaign off to great start with three victories and a good draw away to Belgium.

After four games Croatia sat equal top and prepared to welcome Serbia in Zagreb, needless to say one of the most eagerly awaited matches in NT history.

Yugoslavia had essentially knocked us out of Euro 2000 and we'd waited long enough for our chance to get one back. Biggest team news was the international debut of 18 year-old Mateo Kovačić, with Štimac opting not to use a defensive midfielder, instead lining up with four creative, ball-playing options.

Mandžukić opened the scoring midway through the first half after he combined with Rakitić and Olić to punish a terrible blunder by the Serbian left back. Some 15 minutes later Olić chested in a bouncing Srna free kick from the right to make it 2-0. The game didn't reach any great heights but the result was exactly what the doctor ordered. The win over our biggest rivals allowed us to keep pace with the Belgians and Štimac began to dream of Brazil and the Copacabana.
What a game that was.
 

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Discussion Starter · #45 · (Edited)
The win over Serbia was followed up by a road win in Wales, however, the wheels would start to come off when we were stunned by the Scots in Zagreb.

Going into the Belgrade clash with Serbia, Croatia sat second, three points behind Belgium but with a considerably worse goal difference. A win would keep up hopes of direct qualification but a draw would secure at least a play-off spot. The stakes were huge.

Modrić returned to the XI after missing in the loss to Scotland, with Štimac opting to start Vukojević alongside him in a 4-2-3-1. Olić was preferred over Perišić on a flank, Eduardo started as an attacking mid and Lovren was in at left back in place of the injured Strinić.

The Serbs completely dominated the first half, hitting the post once and generally looking dangerous. Meanwhile, Croatia didn't fire a shot - literally. The second half started slowly but after 53 minutes Croatia would go ahead. Srna cut out an infield pass by Đuričić, took a couple of steps into midfield before splitting the Serb defence with a precise ball for Mandžukić who coolly slotted home.

The Serbs would equalise with a close range header from a set-piece setting up an interesting final 25 minutes. When Matić was sent off for a second bookable offence with 15 mins to go it looked like Croatia would get a chance to turn the screw. Several minutes later, Croatia pushed men forward for a corner and when it was cleared the Serbs broke quickly and looked through on goal. Enter Joe Šimunić. The big man came across and mowed down the breaking Sulejmani, earning a straight red. Unsportsmanlike definitely but a game-saving and WC-saving act for which Croatian fans will always be grateful.

The game would end 1-1 and would be the last point Štimac would win as Croatia coach. After a home loss to Belgium and another embarrassing defeat away to Scotland in the final game of qualifying, his fate was sealed.
 

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It's quite interesting looking back on some of these lineups how often we played basically 4 centre backs in defense.
 

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That away game vs the Serbs was one of our worst games I've seen us play. Crucial goal by Mandzukic and a great assist by Srna.
 

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Discussion Starter · #48 ·
The HNS followed the tried and tested path after the sacking of Štimac with U21 coach Niko Kovač brought in as his replacement.

Iceland would be drawn in the play-offs; the best possible outcome considering that among the other potential opponents were powerhouses France and the always tricky Swedes.

Kovač recalled Pranjić, who had fallen out of favour under Štimac, and reintroduced Ivo Iličević. Both would start the first leg in Reykjavik where Croatia lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Rakitić switched to a central role alongside Modrić. The game ended 0-0, leaving the tie wide open for the return leg in Zagreb.

Kovač made two changes for the decider, with Olić coming in for Iličević on a wing and Kovačić replacing Eduardo in an advanced mid role.

Mandžukić would once again get the opener, finding himself at the back post to sweep in a Rakitić cross after a short corner. The first half, though, wouldn't end well, with Mandžo getting a straight red and Croatia now facing a genuine test to hold out the Icelanders.

However, the second half would become the Mateo Kovačić show. Two plays particularly stand out - both starting with him picking the ball up on the left of midfield and carving his way through the Icelandic players. The first run ended in an assist for Srna and the second, arguably more brilliant, saw Kova's weak finish turned past by the post by the keeper.

The 2-0 win was also Joe Šimunić's final NT game.
 

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Looking back at the Spain game it seems crazy that Pranjić was chosen over Perišić but I guess Ivan was fairly young then.
Bilic’s tactical adoption to restrict Spain was built on the idea of playing four full backs. The young Perisic wasn’t the defensive player we know today.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
Yeah, and I think his inconsistent defensive output was the main reason he wasn't a regular under Klopp at Dortmund.
 

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Discussion Starter · #51 ·
Kovač got the job done in the play-offs and although expectations were relatively high going into the WC in Brazil, Croatia once again was unable to win the crucial final group game. This time it was Mexico who sent us packing and in the months that followed the coach copped his fair share of criticism.

Croatia opened Euro 2016 qualifying with three victories, including a 6-0 thrashing of Azerbaijan. The play wasn't spectacular, perhaps even unconvincing, but going into the fourth game, away to Italy in Milan, top spot was ours on GD.

For the previous game (Azerbaijan), Kovač played Kramarić up front with Mandžukić and used Kovačić and Rakitić on the flanks. In Milan, he reverted to his standard 4-2-3-1 with Olić and Perišić coming in for Kramarić and Kovačić.

The game didn't start well, Italy went ahead after 10 minutes via a Candreva strike from long range. However, Italy would go on to have only more shot on target for the game; and Perišić would cancel out Candreva's strike only a few minutes later courtesy of a Buffon blunder. When Modrić came off injured with under 30 minutes played it looked like Croatia's recovery would be derailed and any chance of a win dashed. But no, Kovačić came on and the team continued to dominate possession and the game. The match was marred by protesting Croatian fans and almost called off with around 15 minutes to go. Despite losing momentum the game still could've been won but a great chance near the death was uncharacteristically spurned by Perišić.

Most would agree that this was the best game Croatia played under Kovač, probably one of the best ever played by the NT, in fact. Although three points would've been massive a point was good too, and it looked like Kovač had finally found the right formula.

Croatia followed up with a 5-1 smashing of Norway in Zagreb, which would prove to be the NTs last win under Kovač. A 2-0 road loss to the same opposition after a disappointing 0-0 away to the Azeris resulted in his dismissal. There was more to the story than just two poor results, but either way, Kovač was gone.
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 · (Edited)
The HNS didn't look far for Kovač's replacement, with HNL journeyman coach Ante Čačić brought in, a man with a long but unimpressive CV.

After the debacle in Oslo, the team regrouped under the new coach and saw out the campaign with six points from the last two games. It was enough for second place and direct qualification under the new, expanded Euro format.

Between the end of qualifying and the start of the Euros, Croatia was undefeated in five friendlies. Most impressive performance among those was a 3-1 away win in Russia, however, a 1-1 against Hungary in Budapest was probably most significant in this period. Fallout from that game ended up with Lovren eventually being left out of the final squad for the tournament.

Croatia opened the tourney with a 1-0 win over Turkey and followed it up with a 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic. With Croatia leading in the second half and playing some of the best football of the tournament, disaffected fans launched another protest, the disruption and some non-action by the coach leading the Czechs to an equaliser in the dying minutes.

So it was on the back of more turmoil that Croatia prepared to face Spain in the final group game. Unlike four years prior, it wasn't do or die, Croatia sat in second place almost certain to go through with four points.

The Spanish made no change to their team that routed Turkey in the previous game while Čačić decided to rest several players. Call it smart or raising the white flag, but Vrsaljko came in at LB for Strinić, Jedvaj replaced Vida at CB, Rog came in for Modrić (who had come off against the Czechs with a groin niggle), Pjaca took Brozović's role on the flank and Kalinić led the attack in place of Mandžukić.

The Croatian defence looked disjointed from the beginning and Morata finished off a good Spanish sequence to give them the lead after seven minutes. They continued to dominate but Croatia started getting back into the game late in the second half. Rakitić was unlucky not to score with a deft chip over De Gea and then on the stroke of HT Kalinić scored with a cheeky flick off a great Perišić delivery from the left.

The second half was more even but when Spain was given a dubious penalty with 15-20 minutes to go things looked bleak. As he would do again two years later in even more dramatic circumstances, Subašić was our penalty hero, saving Ramos' effort. Croatia would be on the back foot but with three minutes to go Kalinić and Perišić would link up again, this time on a quick counter with Perja providing a powerful finish.

Croatia would hold on and grab top spot in the group. Unfortunately, we ran into the wily Portuguese in the next round and our tournament was over.
 
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