Football in Croatia, called Nogomet, is the most popular sport in the country and is run by the Croatian Football Association. It is played in four official components; The domestic league consists of three hierarchical levels, and a single national team represents the entire state.
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The first Croatian clubs were founded before the First World War and participated in the Yugoslav league structure after Croatia became a part of Yugoslavia after the war. From 1940 to 1944, 19 friendly matches were played by a Croatian national team, representing the puppet states of Banovina of Croatia and the independent state of Croatia from the time of the Second World War. After the war, most of the prominent Yugoslav clubs, including the clubs in Croatia, were dissolved and replaced by Marshal Tito's communist regime with new teams.
Today Croatian club football is dominated by Hajduk Split, HNK Rijeka and Dinamo Zagreb. Since independence, the country has spawned a number of players who have performed well in many of Europe's most prestigious leagues, bringing the national team to third place in the 1998 World Cup and the 2018 World Cup finals.
The Croatian national football team (Croatian: Hrvatska nogometna reprezentacija) represents Croatia at international football matches. The team is controlled by the Croatian Football Federation (HNS), the Croatian Football Federation. Football is widely supported throughout the country due to the ubiquitous popularity of the sport. Most home matches are played in the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, but occasionally other smaller venues are used. They are one of the youngest national teams (since inception) to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament and the youngest ever to top the FIFA World Ranking.
Croatia has been represented as a separate nation since 1993, when the team was officially recognized by both FIFA and UEFA following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In times of political upheaval, short-lived national teams were active for a short time, representing sovereign states such as the Banovina of Croatia from 1939 to 1941 or the independent state of Croatia from 1941 to 1944. Before the current team was formed, most Croats were Croats The players represented instead the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The modern side have played competitive games since 1994 and start a successful qualifying campaign for the 1996 European Championship. In 1998 they took part in their first FIFA World Cup, finishing in 3rd place and placing the tournament's top scorer, Davor Šuker. Exactly twenty years later, Croatia reached the 2018 World Cup finals with its second golden generation and secured second place after a defeat by France. Captain Luka Modrić was named Best Player of the Tournament for his achievements, making him the first Croatian player to win the award.
Among other nicknames, the team is colloquially referred to as Vatreni ("Blazer" or "Fiery") or Kockasti ("Checked"). In Italian-speaking countries, the team is known as "Il furioso incendio" ("The Blazing Fire"). Croatia has not qualified since joining two major tournaments. the European Championship 2000 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Their biggest defeat came in 2018 with a 6-0 loss to Spain, while their strongest win was a 0-10 win over San Marino in 2016. The national team is also known for some long-standing rivalries such as the derby Adriatico vs. Italy or the politically charged rivalry with Serbia, which have both led to controversial or disruptive games.
The team represents the second-smallest country by population and land mass to reach the World Cup final in Uruguay and the Netherlands respectively. In major tournaments, Croatia holds the longest shared records between a goal and another of a player (2002-2014), most penalties (2), most extra-time tournaments (3) and most penalties (3). In addition to Colombia, they are one of only two teams that have been honored several times as "Best Mover of the Year" by FIFA and received the award in 1994 and 1998. Croatia was 125th in the FIFA World Cup for admission to FIFA. After the 1998 World Cup campaign, the team rose to third place in the ranking, making it the most volatile team in FIFA's history.
Goran Vlaović scored the team's first goal in a major tournament, a late winner against Turkey at the City Ground in Nottingham in their first group game at 96 euros. After the opening victory, Croatia defeated reigning champions Denmark 3-0. They lost to Portugal in the last group match round. Croatia still moved into the round of 16, but were beaten 2-1 by Germany in the quarter-finals, who won the tournament.
Despite the quarter-finals Blažević led the qualification for the 1998 World Cup, which ended after a total victory against Ukraine in a two-legged play-off successfully. In the group stage of the World Cup Croatia defeated Jamaica and Japan, but lost to Argentina before defeating Romania to reach a quarter-final against Germany, and then came second in the world.  Croatia won with goals from Robert Jarni, Goran Vlaović and Davor Šuker 3-0 after Christian Wörns was dismissed. Croatia met in the semifinals to the host country France. After a scoreless first half, Croatia took the lead, only to concede against defender Lilian Thuram two goals and to lose 1: 2. In the match for third place Croatia defeated the Netherlands 2-1. Davor Šuker won the Golden Boot Award for most goals of the tournament with six goals in seven games. The performance of Croatia in 1998 was one of the best debut performances at the World Cup (with third place at the 1966 World Cup in Portugal). As a result, Croatia rose to third in the FIFA World Ranking in January 1999, reaching the highest ranked date. For their achievements, the team of the 1990s was called the "Golden Generation". A considerable part of this team (Jarni, Štimac, Boban, Prosinečki and Šuker) has previously won the FIFA World Youth Championship 1987 with the Yugoslav U20 national team.
Despite good performances in the first two major competitions, Croatia's qualifying campaign for Euro 2000 was less successful as it finished third in its qualifying group behind Yugoslavia and the Republic of Ireland and thus did not qualify. Both games against arch-rivals Yugoslavia (the later renamed Serbia and Montenegro rump state) ended in a draw, which prevented the qualification of Croatia for the tournament.
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