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Season review: Croatia

Published: Monday 3 June 2013, 9.00CET
GNK Dinamo Zagreb wrapped up their eighth straight title with five games to spare, while HNK Hajduk Split dug deep to claim the Croatian Cup at the expense of NK Lokomotiva.
by Elvir Islamović
from Zagreb
Season review: Croatia
Dinamo prospect Alen Halilović ©GNK Dinamo Zagreb
Published: Monday 3 June 2013, 9.00CET

Season review: Croatia

GNK Dinamo Zagreb wrapped up their eighth straight title with five games to spare, while HNK Hajduk Split dug deep to claim the Croatian Cup at the expense of NK Lokomotiva.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb reigned supreme as Krunoslav Jurčić led the club to their eighth consecutive title, before HNK Hadjuk Split – dubbed relegation candidates by some last summer – came out on top in a thrilling Croatian Cup final. 

Champions: GNK Dinamo Zagreb
Croatian football's dominant force wrapped up another league title with minimum fuss, finishing 20 points above closest pursuers Lokomotiva and 25 clear of arch-rivals Hajduk. The capital club failed to replicate their domestic prowess in the UEFA Champions League, however, and just one point from six Group A fixtures sealed the fate of coach Ante Čačić. Krunoslav Jurčić returned for his third spell in charge of Dinamo Zagreb, negotiating 12 victories from their remaining 15 outings, a sequence that included ten successive clean sheets. 

Cup final: HNK Hajduk Split 5-4 NK Lokomotiva (agg)
Under the tutelage of new boss Igor Tudor, Hajduk exhibited the twin virtues of character and desire to come from behind in both legs and lift the cup for the sixth time in their history. The Split outfit began the second leg in the capital 2-1 up, but within nine minutes it was all square as Mario Šitum struck for Lokomotiva. Goals from Ivan Vuković  and Tino-Sven Sušić either side of half-time swung the tie back in Hadjuk's favour and although Andrej Kramarić revived home hopes 19 minutes from time, Danijel Stojanović's strike within 60 seconds effectively killed them off.

European places*
GNK Dinamo Zagreb – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
NK Lokomotiva – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
HNK Rijeka – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
HNK Hajduk Split – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Sammir (GNK Dinamo Zagreb)
Born in Brazil, the artful midfielder bore all the hallmarks of his native country by combining intuition and potent finishing to plunder a personal-high 13 league goals. The 26-year-old attracted covetous glances from across the globe, and if he were to leave this summer, it would be as a Croatian international after making his debut in a friendly against Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia last October.

One to watch: Alen Halilović (GNK Dinamo Zagreb)
Arguably the hottest prospect to come out of Croatia in the past 20 years, the 16-year-old produced a string of glittering displays that belied his tender years and became the youngest debutant and goalscorer in the history of the Prva Liga. Glowing comparisons with Real Madrid CF schemer Luka Modrić tell you everything you need to know about the nature of a player who flourished at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in May. 

Surprise package: NK Lokomotiva
Plying their trade in Croatia's fourth division just six years ago, Tomislav Ivković's team continued their meteoric rise by securing a second-place finish and a UEFA Europa League berth. It represented Lokomotiva's finest season in their history and it could have been better had they overcome Hadjuk in the Croatian Cup final. 

Leading scorer: Leon Benko, HNK Rijeka (18)

Relegated: NK Inter Zaprešić, HNK Cibalia, NK Zagreb

Promoted: NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac

Number: 950
Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper Ivan Kelava made history by going 950 minutes without conceding. Joey Didulica was the previous record holder with a total of 874 minutes during his time at FK Austria Wien.  

Quote
"After the match against Hajduk, my life changed completely. Nothing is the same for me since then. My life is different now. People are starting to recognise me on the streets." 17-year-old Dinamo Zagreb defender Tin Jedvaj speaks about his rise to fame. 

Last updated: 03/06/13 10.56CET

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