Croatia has emerged as a force to be reckoned with ever since their magical run to the bronze medal in the 1998 World Cup.
While there are a number of key players that played roles in this emergence, there have been some outstanding players throughout Croatia’s short soccer history.
So, in celebration of Croatia’s qualification for Euro 2012, let’s take a look at the top 10 most important players in the national team’s history.
Olic doesn’t score as much as a forward should, but his hard work is undeniable. He clearly gives 100 percent every game and wreaks havoc for opposing defenders. He most notably scored the second goal against Germany at the Euro 2008 finals, which landed up to be the game-winner.
Pletikosa is the lone goaltender on this list, but he has been an integral part of the Croatian squad since his debut in 1999.
While his weaknesses were obvious at the beginning, so was his raw skill. He honed his abilities and became Croatia’s No. 1 goaltender through a number of tournaments.
The only player on this list who isn't Croatian, Eduardo—or Dudu, as he is affectionately known—has played forward for the national team since 2004.
The Brazilian had the potential to become one of Croatia’s best goal scorers, but a horrific leg injury in February 2008 while playing for Arsenal derailed his career.
Prior to that, he put Croatia on his shoulders during the successful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign by scoring an astonishing 10 goals.
The Australian-born defender is infamously known for a group game against Australia in the 2006 World Cup where he received three yellow cards.
However, Simunic has been a rock on Croatia’s defense since 2001. His technical skills do not go unnoticed for his height (6'5"), and teammate Niko Kranjcar once said (h/t Wikipedia) that “on a training pitch, he does feints like Ronaldinho.”
Kovac was a mainstay in the Croatian midfield and a captain from 2004 to 2008. He was known for his great passing and tackling skills. In addition, he complemented Luka Modric during Euro 2008, even though he was in the decline of his career.
His retirement might have been premature, but his decision to step aside to give younger players an opportunity was extremely honorable.
Srna is one of Croatia’s most capped players and is the current captain of the squad. His play along the wings is unlike anything seen before for the national team. While his theatrics late in the game might be painful to watch, he has nonetheless become an integral part of the team’s success, especially during the qualifying campaign of Euro 2008.
Some might find it a bit generous to put Modric in the top five, but his importance in Croatia’s recent history cannot be ignored. He has become the face of Croatian soccer, donning the ever-popular No. 10 and controlling the midfield with incredible skill.
Modric has also gained international recognition as evidenced by his success in the English Premier League with Tottenham.
Simic holds the honor of being Croatia’s most capped player, appearing in exactly 100 games. Throughout his career, he was a mainstay on the back line of Croatia’s defense, known especially for his versatility and ability to play different positions. He is generally considered to be the best defender in Croatian history.
The captain of the 1998 World Cup squad, Boban maneuvered the midfield with masterful precision throughout his career. He was known to be a vocal, outspoken player, especially during Croatia’s fight for independence in the 1990s.
His attitude and heart made him a fan favorite and he will always be remembered for the pass that set up Davor Suker’s game-winner against the Netherlands in the bronze medal game of the 1998 World Cup.
This was an easy pick at No. 1. Suker is Croatia’s top scorer, with 45 goals in 69 games, and won the Golden Boot at the 1998 World Cup, where he led the team to the bronze medal.
He was also named to FIFA 100, which lists the best 125 current and former players. He put Croatian soccer on the map in the late 1990s and continues to be an ambassador for the sport of soccer by running a training academy for children in Zagreb and other cities.