When people talk about Croatia’s soccer history everything starts with the 1998 team, when Croatia finished third at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Croatia’s first appearance at a major tournament was at the 1996 European Championship where they made it all the way to the quarterfinals but they really made a name for themselves at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The 1998 World Cup was Croatia’s first World Cup as an independent nation and it sure made a great impression on the world’s biggest sports stage. This team had many great players such as Robert Prosinečki and Davor Šuker; a couple of the key players on that 1998 Croatia team were part of the 1987 under 20 Yugoslavian team where Yugoslavia won the 1987 FIFA under 20 World Cup. Players who were on both teams are Prosinečki, Šuker, Zvonimir Boban, Igor Štimac and Robert Jarni. This was a talented group of players, Prosinečki won the best player award at the 1987 under 20 World Cup. Croatia was grouped with Argentina, Jamaica and Japan at the 1998 World Cup; they beat Japan and Jamaica but lost to Argentina 1-0 in the final group match. By finishing second in the group behind Argentina, Croatia faced Romania in the round of 16 where they won 1-0, then beat Germany 3-0 in the quarterfinals but then Croatia would face France in the semifinals. France were the hosts of the 1998 World Cup and were favorites to win it all. The first half of that game was leveled at 0-0, Croatia were keeping their ground against the hosts and the favorites to win it all. Right at the start of the second half, in the 46th minute, Davor Šuker gave Croatia the 1-0 lead in Paris. The celebration did not last long as France scored in 47th minute to tie it up and again in the 69th minute to give France the lead. Both goals were scored by French defender Lilian Thuram; Thuram never scored for France before that game and would never score again for France after that game. Thuram played a total of 142 games for France and scored only two goals, both coming against Croatia in the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup. The players were heartbroken but were proud of what they accomplished, something most people did not expect from them to do. France would go on to beat Brazil 3-0 in the final and lift the World Cup trophy at home in Paris. Croatia faced the Netherlands in the match for third place match or also called the bronze medal match, where Croatia won 2-1 thanks to goals from Prosinečki and Šuker. Šuker won the golden boot award at the 1998 World Cup thanks to his six goals. Since then no other Croatian team has ever gotten close to achieving what that 1998 team did, until at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The time period from 1998-2018 has been period with many ups and downs for Croatian soccer. Out of the 12 possible major tournaments Croatia could possibly have qualified for, Croatia has made 10 of them. The first of two missed tournaments happened right after the 1998 World cup when Croatia failed to qualify for the 2000 European Championship. The second tournament Croatia failed to qualify for was the 2010 World Cup. Overall Croatia has qualified for five World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006, 2014, 2018) and five European Championships (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016). Basically Croatia regularly qualifies for most major tournaments, which is an accomplishment for such a small country. There were many great moments in this time period like beating Italy 2-1 at the 2002 World Cup, beating England 3-2 in London which resulted in England not qualifying for EURO 2008 (even though Croatia had already been qualified for the tournament a game prior to that one), beating Germany 2-1 at EURO 2008 and beating Spain 2-1 at EURO 2016. There have been also many down moments like not qualifying for those two tournaments that Croatia missed, conceding a 120th minute goal to Turkey after Croatia had scored in the 119th minute to take the 1-0 and already had one foot in the semifinals of EURO 2008 or conceding a goal to Portugal in the 117th minute in the round of 16 of EURO 2016 which saw Portugal win 1-0 and eventually Portugal would go on to be European champions. Many misfortunes and missed opportunities happened in this time period, but 2018 is a different story.