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Season review: Croatia

Published: Monday 14 May 2012, 14.13CET
GNK Dinamo Zagreb underlined their dominance in Croatia with a seventh straight title success after a campaign showcasing the talents of Ivan Kelava and Mateo Kovačić.
Season review: Croatia
Dinamo celebrate their 2-1 victory over arch-rivals Hajduk in March ©Getty Images
Published: Monday 14 May 2012, 14.13CET

Season review: Croatia

GNK Dinamo Zagreb underlined their dominance in Croatia with a seventh straight title success after a campaign showcasing the talents of Ivan Kelava and Mateo Kovačić.

It was business as usual in Croatia in 2011/12 as GNK Dinamo Zagreb secured their 14th league title in 21 seasons and ended the campaign celebrating the double too. Dinamo's dominance was underlined by the fact they sealed the championship with five games to spare.

Champions: GNK Dinamo Zagreb
Dinamo changed their coach mid-season but were still able to start celebrating on 7 April when a 3-0 victory over HNK Šibenik confirmed their seventh consecutive title. Ante Čačić's appointment in December, as replacement for Krunoslav Jurčić, paid off in style as the new man recorded 10 victories and three draws in 13 First League matches, with a goal difference of 34-4. Dinamo lost only once in the entire season, against NK Zadar in October, and finished 21 points clear of their bitter rivals HNK Hajduk Split, the runners-up. Unfortunately for Hajduk, there is no sign that Dinamo's dominance will end any time soon.

Cup final: GNK Dinamo Zagreb 3-1 NK Osijek (aggregate)
After a goalless first leg in Osijek, Dinamo clinched the double in front of their home fans, though their victory was less straightforward than it might seem. Leading 2-0 they conceded an own goal through Šime Vrsaljko and Osijek then had a penalty to equalise and take the lead on away goals – instead goalkeeper Ivan Kelava saved Josip Lukačević's kick and Dinamo promptly scored a third. As Čačić said afterwards: "We had luck today and its name was Ivan Kelava."

European places*
GNK Dinamo Zagreb – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
HNK Hajduk Split – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
NK Slaven Belupo – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
NK Osijek – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Ivan Kelava (GNK Dinamo Zagreb)
The pick of UEFA.com's Croatian team is Kelava, whose cup final penalty save merely underlined the qualities he had showed all season long. The talented goalkeeper helped his club reach the UEFA Champions League group stage and produced some magnificent saves during the domestic campaign, conceding only 11 goals in 27 league appearances.

One to watch: Mateo Kovačić (GNK Dinamo Zagreb)
One of the brightest talents in Croatia and already tipped to become a leading playmaker, he became the youngest player to captain Dinamo last summer, when, in then skipper Igor Bišćan's absence, he wore the armband at just 17 years and 82 days. He scored against Olympique Lyonnais in the UEFA Champions League, becoming the club's second youngest scorer in Europe's elite competition.

Surprise package: RNK Split
The Split club had a brilliant debut campaign in the top flight in 2010/11, finishing third and earning a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds. Many thought they would be one-season wonders but they were wrong. RNK had another excellent season and though they did not earn European qualification at the end of it, their fourth place is proof that there is more than one strong side in Split.

Leading scorer: Fatos Beqiraj 15

Relegated: NK Lučko, HNK Šibenik, NK Karlovac, NK Varaždin

Promoted: none

Number: 11
The number of goals conceded by Dinamo in their 30 Croatian First League matches.

Quote:
"I couldn't imagine a better Easter. I woke up on Easter morning as a Croatian champion and the first congratulations I received were from my grandchildren who were singing 'Dinamo are the champions' to me."
Dinamo coach Čačić reflects on a pleasing start to his Easter Sunday with his team already crowned champions.

Last updated: 09/07/12 23.58CET

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