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.
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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 Croatian Football Federation (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 had been through the HNS youth development system. The next challenge is transferring this expertise into the women's game.
- Infrastructure improvements are important in Croatia (see 'UEFA support' below). 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'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.
National team history
Date of birth: 10 February 1975
Association president since: 2021
Date of birth: 5 September 1969
Association executive director since: 2021