Croatia’s Golden Generation may be playing their last tournament together. With the size and population of two of the USA’s smaller New England states combined, Croatia has produced some of the best soccer players in the world. Their The small European country’s current national team has 13 players in the top five continental leagues, most as starters. But what has been magnificent to watch is their golden generation of players, those who populated the national teams in 2016 and 2022.
For the past several years they have been ranked below the top dozen teams in the world yet have outperformed all of the European teams above them on that list consistently.
A starting lineup for Croatia’s Golden Generation during that time frame would have Danijel Subasic in goal, Dejan Lovren, Damagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic, and Sime Vrsaljko, in defense, Ivan Rakitic, Luca Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic in midfield and Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic as strikers. Their results over the course of 2017-2022
In the 2022 Nations League, Croatia started with a 0-3 home loss to Austria, and then they went on a tear beating Austria away 3-1, drawing with France 1-1 at home, and beating them 1-0 at the Stade de France, beating Denmark 1-0 in Copenhagen and 2-1 in Zagreb, and making it to the semifinals with Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, and ahead of France, Germany, Portugal, England, Denmark, and Belgium.
In Euro 2020, the Croatians came in second to England in their group with a suspect 0-1 score in favor of the hosts the deciding factor, then lost 3-5 to Spain in added time (the final Spanish scores coming in the 100th and 103rd minutes), while Croatia was missing three of their starting defenders.
The Croatian Golden Generation in World Cup 2018 lost the final 2-4 to France after defeating England 2-1, Russia 2-2 (4-3p), Denmark 1-1 (3-2p), Iceland 2-1, Nigeria 2-0, Argentina 3-0. Four direct wins two draws with penalty wins and one loss.
In Euro 2016 Croatia defeated Turkey 1-0, drew 2-2 with the Czech Republic, and defeated Spain 2-1 to progress top of Group D. Unfortunately, their next rival was the eventual cup winner Portugal. But even then, their loss was in extra time, with Ricardo Quaresma scoring in the 117th minute to give the Portuguese the win.
Notice that Croatia seldom get blown out, that they fight into overtime and penalties often, that they come out on top at the end of those extra challenges much more often than not, and that their ranks are rarely overpopulated.
In Qatar, Croatia will be playing Belgium, Canada, and Morocco, and barring a true upset of catastrophic proportions they will progress to play another team ranked above them in the Round of 16—don’t bet against them. The 2022 World Cup will be the last for several of Croatia’s Golden Generation stars, such as Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, and Damagoj Vida, but it will certainly be for 2018’s FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner and The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018, Luca Modric (37 years old). When he retires that golden generation will in effect retire regardless of who is left standing.
Photo: Croatian Golden Generation star Ivan Perisic,