Croatia's All-Time Greatest XI
In October 2014 Croatia will celebrate 23 years of its independence from Yugoslavia, but despite being one of the youngest nations in Europe, the Croats have become regulars in major footballing competitions.
In 1994, Croatia entered their first qualifiers for Euro '96 in England and immediately reached the stars. They didn't just qualify: Croatia played in the quarter-final, losing to Germany.
Two years later, Croatia became the world's sensation, winning the bronze medal at the World Cup in France. In years after that the Blazers appeared in all but two major tournaments—Euro 2000 and World Cup 2010.
Since entering the world stage, the Croats have played attractive football, often making them favorites of many neutrals. Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker, Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic and many others won over many hearts all over the world. But who are the best 11 players to have ever played for Croatia?
Here is Bleacher Report's selection, but don't hesitate to give us yours in the comments section.
Now a 51-year-old coach, Ladic spent most of his career protecting the goal of Dinamo Zagreb, first in the Yugoslav league and then in the Croatian league. He was Ciro Blazevic's No. 1 for years and was capped 59 times for Croatia.
Ladic was selected for the first World Cup Croatia played at France '98. His performances there were brilliant, and he deserves credit for his contribution to the third-place finish.
However, Ladic had his flops, including an own goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the qualifiers for France.
The captain will lead Croatia in Brazil, making his fifth appearance in major tournaments. Probably the best right-back Croatia has ever produced, he was born in Metkovic to a Bosnian father and Croatian mother and made his first professional steps in Hajduk Split.
Since 2003, he has played for Shakhtar Donetsk, where he has earned iconic status. He has won eight Ukrainan titles and one Croatian League crown, adding seven cups (two in Croatia and five in Ukraine) and captaining Shakhtar to UEFA Cup glory in 2009.
Born in Berlin, Kovac spent most of his career playing in the Bundesliga. He spent five years with Bayer Leverkusen, four more with Bayern Munich and had a spell with Borussia Dortmund. For two seasons he played for Juventus as well.
A solid central defender, he was a backbone for Croatia for years. He played at two World Cups and two European Championships, collecting 84 caps. Even though some great players like Igor Stimac or Igor Tudor played at his position, he deserves his place in Croatia's best-ever team.
Bilic, a former West Ham and Everton defender, was one of the most consistent defenders Croatia have had in their history. He played 44 times for his country and was part of the golden generation that finished third in France in 1998.
After his playing career, Bilic took over the national team and transformed them into a modern side that was competitive with Italy and Spain at Euro 2012. He is currently working as a manager for Turkish side Besiktas.
Niko Kovac struggled to find a left-back after Ivan Strinic was forced to leave the squad due to injury, but in his time as manager, Blazevic did not have that problem.
Robert Jarni was an outstanding left-back in his 3-5-2 formation, playing 81 matches and scoring once—the one goal coming against Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Jarni played for Hajduk and spent some time in Italy (Bari, Torino, Juventus), England (Coventry City) and Spain, where he played for Betis, Las Palmas and Real Madrid. He was a member of the Yugoslav World Cup squad at Italy '90 as well.
After his playing career, he tried his hand as a coach but was not as successful—his last spell in Vincent Tan's FK Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina ended with his sacking.
Many will suggest that this place belongs to Aljosa Asanovic, but if we are fantasizing about a 4-4-2 formation we need a proper defensive midfielder. The best defensive midfielder Croatia ever had is present coach Niko Kovac.
He was a true leader of his generation, a coach on the pitch, and even when he was just a young Berlin-born boy playing for Croatia, everyone knew that he would one day become the team's coach for real. He played 83 times for Croatia and spent most of his club career in Germany, including two seasons with Bayern Munich.
Kovac was installed as Croatia coach after Igor Stimac was sacked prior to a match against Iceland, having almost no experience as a first-team manager.
The iconic captain is still one of the most popular Croatian players of all time.
A world champion with the Yugoslav U20 team in Chile in 1987, he was destined to be part of the Italy '90 World Cup squad. But after he defended one of Dinamo's supporters by attacking a policeman in a legendary match between Dinamo and Red Star at the Stadion Maksimir in May 1990, he was suspended and missed the World Cup.
Eight years later, as a star for AC Milan, he captained his country to the biggest achievement in its history, the third-place finish in France. The brilliant midfielder played more than 250 matches for Milan and was capped for Croatia on 51 occasions.
Is there anything that has not been written about this magician?
The wonder boy Luka Modric just celebrated his first Champions League title and was named the best Croatian player of the season. Modric started his career with Dinamo and spent time on loan with Zrinjski in Bosnia and Herzegovina and minnows Inter Zapresic in Croatia, but he flourished in Zagreb.
His transfer to Tottenham was one of the most lucrative in Dinamo's history. He is now with Real Madrid, playing a key role for the champions of Europe.
He made his international debut in 2006 and has since earned 74 caps. Croats are hoping that the best is yet to come in Brazil.
He was—and still is—a heavy smoker who was regarded as a failure by Miroslav Blazevic, who was Dinamo Zagreb's coach at the time. In 1987, he moved to fierce rivals Red Star Belgrade, where he won the European Cup.
As with many others in this team, Prosinecki was a member of the Yugoslav U20 team that won the world title in 1987. He played for Yugoslavia 15 times, including the World Cup at Italy '90.
After Croatia gained independence, he collected 49 caps and 10 goals and is remembered as one of the finest midfielders his country ever produced.
Boksic's goal against Ukraine in the play-offs for France '98 was decisive, but he missed the run to third place through injury.
Boksic won Serie A on two occasions and was the champion of Europe with Marseille in 1993, when he was also named the Croatian footballer of the year. He played 40 times for Croatia, scoring 10 goals.
A prolific former striker, Suker will be in Brazil, but not on the pitch—he will be in the VIP section as president of the Croatian Football Federation.
Suker won 1998 World Cup's Golden Boot award with six goals. He was also the champion of Europe with Real that same year, the best one of his career.