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Developing football in Croatia

Developing talent has long been a habit in Croatia, which following independence in 1991 quickly developed into a European force on the pitch. Off it, the national association is working hard to ensure success continues long term.

Overview

Source: UEFA grassroots survey (2019)

Still a young nation, having only gained independence from the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia has made great strides in the intervening years, becoming a regular at major tournaments and reaching its first World Cup final in 2018.

That success was no accident, and the HNS has been working hard to develop all areas of the game at home.

  • Player development remains front and centre to the federation's strategy. All 26 players selected for Croatia's EURO 2020 squad have been through the HNS youth development system. The next challenge is transferring this expertise into the women's game.
  • Infrastructural improvements are important in Croatia (see below on UEFA support). Many facilities are state-owned and in need of modernisation in order to meet European standards. Ensuring clubs and national teams can train and play in conditions that are comparable to those in other big European football nations is a major strategic goal.
  • Continuing growth in participation is also key, with schemes to nurture children's love of the game a constant priority.
  • The HNS has also focused on organisational development, working with UEFA to mature its business and introduce improved coaching programmes across the country.

UEFA support

UEFA’s HatTrick programme, which channels EURO revenues into football development across Europe, has helped the HNS manage a rise in grassroots participation with the funding of artificial pitches across the country.

These new pitches provide communities with better facilities, suitable for all-year-round usage, which is crucial in dealing with cold winters, as well as reducing the cost of pitch maintenance for many smaller clubs.

Higher up the footballing pyramid, HatTrick is also funding the construction of hybrid pitches, a mixture of grass and artificial materials, at four top-division stadiums: Poljud Stadium in Split (HNK Hajduk Split), Šubićevac Stadium in Šibenik (HNK Šibenik), Gradski Stadion Velika Gorica (HNK Gorica) and Gradski Stadion Varaždin (NK Varaždin). These state-owned stadiums, with top-quality playing surfaces, will be available for use by Croatia's national teams.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, HatTrick funding helped the HNS to restart domestic football competitions while ensuring the safety of players and staff. As a result, football was the first major sport to resume activity, and the operational and testing models used were shared with other sports organisations in Croatia.

Other projects to have received HatTrick support have included the Special Power League for children with developmental disabilities, the staging of educational courses for football doctors, anti-doping workshops for youth players and women's football, referee and coaching development programmes.

UEFA Foundation for Children in Croatia

Set up in 2015, the UEFA foundation uses football as a vehicle to help improve children’s lives by supporting hundreds of campaigns and projects across Europe and around the world.

Youth Sports Games 2021

The Youth Sports Games started in 1996 in Split, enabling children to participate in organised sporting events and other free activities. The games have since become the largest amateur sports event for children and young people in Europe, with more than two million children having competed in the 25 years since they began.

Held in three countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia), the games feature ten sports disciplines, promoting healthy lifestyles, friendship and fair play across nations. It is hoped more than 200,000 competitors will feature in 2021.

Timeline

Association history

1903: Croatia's first clubs are founded in Zagreb in 1903: the First Football and Sport Club, and the Croatian Academical Sport Club.
1912: The HNS follows nine years later, established in the same city on 13 June 1912. Teams from the regions of Istria and Dalmatia are precluded from joining because they fall under Austrian rule. The first national championship therefore features only sides from Zagreb – five in total – when it begins on 26 September 1912.
1918: The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes comes into being, renamed as Yugoslavia in 1929. The HNS is incorporated into the Yugoslav Football Association from 1919.
1939: The HNS is reformed, with Croatia defeating Switzerland 4-0 in April 1940. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia after the outbreak of World War Two, Croatia becomes an independent state and the HNS is admitted as a full FIFA member in 1941.
1945: The Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia is born, but the HNS continues as part of the new state.
1953: Croatia-born stars Bernard Vukas, Vladimir Beara, Zlatko Čajkovski and Branko Zebec feature in a FIFA team that faces England in a commemorative international in London.
1967: Croatian clubs fare well in the early days of European competition, with GNK Dinamo Zagreb winning the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Leeds United 2-0 on aggregate, in 1967. HNK Hajduk Split and HNK Rijeka both reach the later stages in other competitions.
1991: Croatia regains full independence in October, renewing its membership with FIFA in July 1992 and joining UEFA in June 1993.
2012: Golden Boot winner at the 1998 World Cup, Davor Šuker is elected HNS president.
2018: Croatia's Luka Modrić wins the Ballon D'Or after an incredible year in which he lifts the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid before leading his country to the World Cup final.

The famous checkerboard shirt has had some stunning results on the international stage
The famous checkerboard shirt has had some stunning results on the international stage©AFP/Getty Images

National team competitions

1996: Croatia soon make their presence felt, a talented group progressing to the EURO '96 quarter-finals despite it being their first attempt at qualifying for a major tournament.
1998: They go one better at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, finishing third after losing the semi-final to hosts France. Šuker top-scores at the tournament, finding the net six times.
2012: In the 11-a-side game, Croatia develop a knack of qualifying for major tournaments, and this year host the UEFA Futsal EURO to enhance their reputation on the indoor court, reaching the semi-finals for the first time.
2018: Croatia's finest footballing hour to date. Extra-time victory over England in the semi-final sets up a first World Cup final appearance, although they are beaten 4-2 by favourites France in Moscow.

Marijan Kustić
Marijan Kustić©HNS

President

Marijan Kustić

Nationality: Croatian
Date of birth: 10 February 1975
Association president since: 2021

Tomislav Svetina
Tomislav SvetinaHNS

General secretary

Tomislav Svetina

Nationality: Croatian
Date of birth: 5 September 1969
Association executive director since: 2021

Croatian Football Federation website