Football in Croatia

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Football in Croatia
Poljud panorama 2.jpg
Home stadium of club Hajduk Split
Governing body Croatian Football Federation
National team(s) men's national team
women's national team
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Football in Croatia, called nogomet, is the most popular sport in the country and is led by the Croatian Football Federation. [1] It is played in four official components; the domestic league consists of three hierarchical echelons, and a single national team represents the entire state.


The first Croat clubs were founded prior to the First World War and participated in the Yugoslavian league structure after Croatia became a part of Yugoslavia following the war. From 1940 to 1944, nineteen friendly matches were played by a Croatia national side representing the Second World War-era puppet states of the Banovina of Croatia and Independent State of Croatia. After the war, most of the prominent Yugoslavian clubs, including clubs in Croatia, were dissolved and replaced with new sides by Marshal Tito's Communist regime.

Today, club football in Croatia is dominated by Dinamo Zagreb. Since independence, the country has produced a string of players who have performed well in many of Europe's most highly regarded leagues and who took the national team to third place at the 1998 World Cup [1] and the final at the 2018 World Cup.


The governing body of football in Croatia is the Croatian Football Federation. [2] It oversees the organization of:

Note: the aforementioned competitions are for men if not stated differently. Women's football exists but is much less developed or popular.


According to many surveys conducted by multiple newspapers, the most popular club in Croatia is Dinamo Zagreb which is also the most successful club. Their main rivals and second biggest club in Croatia is Hajduk Split, followed by HNK Rijeka and NK Osijek.


The following articles detail major results and events in each footballing season since the early 1990s, when the Croatian First Football League was established. Each article provides final league standings for that season, as well as details on cup results, Croatia national football team results, and a summary of any other important events during the season.

1990s 1990–91 1991–92 1992–93 1993–94 1994–95 1995–96 1996–97 1997–98 1998–99 1999–2000
2000s 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10
2010s 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20
2020s 2020–21


A plaque in Rijeka marking the site of the 1873 football game Nogomet Pod Jelsun Whitehead Rijeka 070610.jpg
A plaque in Rijeka marking the site of the 1873 football game

The earliest record of football in Croatia dates from 1873, when English construction workers played the game in Rijeka. [3] The first known football match involving local population was played in 1880 in Županja, between English workers of The Oak Extract Company and local youths. [3] The sport was further popularized in Croatia by Franjo Bučar in the 1890s. [4] Its Croatian name, nogomet, was coined by the linguist Slavko Rutzner Radmilović in 1893 or 1894. [5] The name was accepted into Slovenian as well.

The earliest clubs were founded before World War IHAŠK and PNIŠK in 1903, Hajduk and Građanski in 1911, etc. However, first Croatian football club Bačka from Subotica was founded in 1901 in the Kingdom of Hungary. In Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatian club Zrinjski Mostar is the oldest in the country and it was founded in 1905. The Croatian Football Federation was founded in 1912.

Croatia location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Zagreb clubs:
Teams from the Republic of Croatia which competed in the Yugoslavian football championship from 1923–1940

After World War I, the Croatians played a major part in the founding of the first football federation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later named the Football Association of Yugoslavia, and its headquarters were initially in Zagreb before they were moved to Belgrade in 1929. During this time, the talented Ico Hitrec played football. In 1927, Hajduk Split took part in the inaugural Mitropa Cup for Central European clubs.

Croatia had its first international football match on April 2, 1940 against Switzerland. During World War II, the Croatian Football Federation joined FIFA as a representative of the Independent State of Croatia, but this was contentious and short-lived as was the fascist puppet-state. After the war, football was resumed in the second Yugoslavia. The communist regime in the new state quickly moved to ban all clubs who had either participated in the Croatian championship or bore Croatian national names. Many clubs were said to have links to the Ustaše. Victims of this disbanding included top-sides Concordia, HAŠK and Građanski, as well as the major Croatian clubs in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina SAŠK and HŠK Zrinjski Mostar. The largest club to avoid disbanding was Hajduk Split who had refused to participate in the Croatian competition.

At this point several other major clubs were founded – today's GNK Dinamo Zagreb, HNK Rijeka and NK Osijek, to name a few. Most clubs had to maintain loyalty to the regime, and it was common for clubs to have a communist red star as part of their emblem.

Over the following decades, the Croatian clubs performed well in the Yugoslav First League and the Yugoslav Cup. Hajduk and Dinamo formed one half of the Big Four of Yugoslav football (the other two being FK Partizan and Red Star Belgrade). In 1967, Zlatko Čajkovski of German club Bayern Munich became the only Croatian manager to win the European Cup Winners' Cup.

After Croatia gained independence in the 1990s, the football federation was reconstituted and joined the international associations. [6] The Croatian internationals from the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship-winning team went on to achieve more success, spawning the Golden Generation who won third place at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. [7] Since then, Croatia has continued to produce top players. At the more recent Euro 2008, they famously beat 2006 FIFA World Cup bronze medalists Germany 2–1 in a shock win but exited the tournament courtesy of a penalty shoot-out against Turkey in the quarterfinals.

Clubs in European competitions

Best results

The table below lists Croatian clubs' best results in elimination rounds of European club competitions:

CompetitionSeasonRoundTeam 1 Agg. Team 21st leg2nd leg
UCWC 1960–61 SF Fiorentina Flag of Italy.svg 4–2 Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg Dinamo Zagreb 3–01–2
UCWC 1972–73 SF Leeds United Flag of England.svg 1–0 Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg Hajduk Split 1–00–0
EC 1975–76 QF Hajduk Split Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg 2–3 Flag of the Netherlands.svg PSV Eindhoven 2–00–3 (aet)
EC 1979–80 QF Hamburger SV Flag of Germany.svg 3–3 (a) Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg Hajduk Split 1–02–3
UC 1983–84 SF Hajduk Split Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg 2–2 (a) Flag of England.svg Tottenham Hotspur 2–10–1
UCL 1994–95 QF Hajduk Split Flag of Croatia.svg 0–3 Flag of the Netherlands.svg Ajax 0–00–3
EL 2020–21 QF Dinamo Zagreb Flag of Croatia.svg 1–3 Flag of Spain.svg Villarreal 0–11–2
UCWC 1998–99 QF Varteks Flag of Croatia.svg 1–3 Flag of Spain.svg Mallorca 0–01–3

Footballers in international club competitions

The following table lists all Croatian players who are credited to win an international final (either appeared in the final, being unused substitutes or were in the squad in earlier rounds of the tournament). It does not include Croatians who were considered Yugoslav players prior to Croatia's independence in 1991.

As of 2021 a total of eleven Croatian players are credited as winning the Champions League: Alen Bokšić, Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker, Dario Šimić, Igor Bišćan, Mario Mandžukić, Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Mateo Kovačić, Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perišić, although Šimić, Bišćan and Lovren did not appear in the finals. [8] In terms of appearances, fourteen players have played in the final (Bokšić, Boban, Šuker, Boris Živković, Marko Babić, Igor Tudor, Dado Pršo, Ivica Olić, Mandžukić, Modrić, Rakitić, Lovren, Perišić and Kovačić), but only five players appeared more than once – Bokšić (1993, 1997), Boban (1994, 1995), Olić (2010, 2012), Mandžukić (2013, 2017) and Modrić (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018). Two Croatian players have scored a goal in the final match, Mandžukić in the 2013 and 2017 final, and Rakitić in the 2015 final.

As of 2019 a total of seven Croatian players are credited as winning the Europa League: Mario Stanić, Ivica Olić, Ivica Križanac, Darijo Srna, Ivan Rakitić, Šime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovačić – although Stanić did not appear for his club in the final. The only Croatian player to have scored a goal in the final match was Nikola Kalinić in the 2015 final. [9]

1 Luka Modrić Real Madrid 2014–201840330010
2 Mateo Kovačić Real Madrid, Chelsea 2016–20214122009
3 Dario Šimić Milan 2003–20072011004
4 Ivan Rakitić Sevilla, Barcelona 2014–2015111100
5 Alen Bokšić Marseille, Juventus, Lazio 1993–19991000113
6 Mario Mandžukić Bayern Munich 2013101100
7 Zvonimir Boban Milan 19941010002
8 Davor Šuker Real Madrid 1998100001
9 Igor Bišćan Liverpool 2001–2005101000
10 Ivica Križanac Zenit Saint Petersburg 2008011000
11 Robert Jarni Real Madrid 19980000011
12 Mario Stanić Parma 1999010000
13 Niko Kovač Bayern Munich 2001000001
14 Robert Kovač Bayern Munich 2001000001
15 Ivica Olić CSKA Moscow 2005010000
16 Darijo Srna Shakhtar Donetsk 2009010000
17 Šime Vrsaljko Atlético Madrid 2018010000
18 Nikola Kalinić Atlético Madrid 2018001000
19 Dejan Lovren Liverpool 2019100000
20 Ivan Perišić Bayern Munich 2020100000
  Abolished competition


Futsal, called mali nogomet (lit. "small football") in Croatia, is also widely played and is sometimes considered as a mini football league. It is often taught in schools and also played by football professionals as a pastime.

The Croatian First League of Futsal is the top-tier futsal competition.


The Croatian football fans organize in various fan groups such as the Torcida (Hajduk), Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo), Armada (Rijeka), Kohorta (Osijek), etc.

On the international games, the Croatian fans usually wear the checkerboard colors red and white, as they are on the Croatian coat of arms.

See also

Related Research Articles

Croatian Football Federation

The Croatian Football Federation is the governing body of association football in Croatia. It was originally formed in 1912 and is based in the capital city of Zagreb. The organisation is a member of both FIFA and UEFA, and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the game of football in Croatia. Its current president is Davor Šuker.

The Croatian First Football League, also known as Prva HNL or 1. HNL or, for sponsorship reasons, the Hrvatski Telekom Prva liga, is the top Croatian professional football league competition, established in 1992. The winners and second placed enter the qualifying stages of the UEFA Champions League. Dinamo Zagreb are the most successful club with 21 titles overall. They are followed by Hajduk Split with six titles. Rijeka and NK Zagreb each have won one title.

HNK Cibalia Association football club in Croatia

Hrvatski nogometni klub Cibalia, commonly known as Cibalia Vinkovci or simply Cibalia, is a Croatian football club from the town of Vinkovci in eastern Croatia. Cibalia currently play in the Druga HNL, Croatia's second tier league. Their stadium is located in the south part of their home town and can hold 12,000 spectators. The name Cibalia comes from the Roman settlement called Colonia Aurelia Cibalae which was the precursor of the present-day town of Vinkovci. In the period from 1945 to 1990 the club was called NK Dinamo Vinkovci.

The Croatian Football Cup, also colloquially known as Rabuzinovo sunce, is an annually held football tournament for Croatian football clubs and is the second most important competition in Croatian football after the Prva HNL championship. It is governed by the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) and usually runs from late August to late May. Cup winners automatically qualify for next season's UEFA Europa Conference League, except when cup winners are also Prva HNL champions, in which case their berth in the Europa Conference League goes to the best placed team in the Prva HNL who haven't qualified for the UEFA competitions through their league performance.

The Croatian Football Super Cup is a football match between the winners of the Croatian First League and the Croatian Football Cup. The Super Cup is always held at the beginning of a new football season, and is only held when different clubs win the two most important competitions in the previous season.

HŠK Građanski Zagreb Football club

HŠK Građanski, also known as 1. HŠK Građanski or fully Prvi hrvatski građanski športski klub, was a Croatian football club established in Zagreb in 1911 and dissolved in 1945. The club had a huge influence on the development of football in Croatia and Kingdom of Yugoslavia and achieved its greatest success in the period between the two World Wars.

The 1992 Croatian First Football League was the first season of the top Croatian football league. It was the inaugural season of the league established following Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia. Affected by the political and social upheavals stemming from the breakup of Yugoslavia and the early stages of the 1991–95 war, the season was drastically shortened and played over the course of less than four months, from 29 February to 13 June.

The 1992–93 Croatian First Football League was the second season of the top football league in Croatia since its establishment after Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia. Games were played from 23 August 1992 to 12 June 1993.

NK Lokomotiva Zagreb Association football club in Croatia

Nogometni klub Lokomotiva Zagreb, commonly known as Lokomotiva Zagreb or simply Lokomotiva, is a Croatian professional football club based in Zagreb. It competes in the Croatian First Football League, the country's top division. Founded in 1914, the club's only period of success came in the late 1940s and early 1950s before spending most of the following five decades in lower-level leagues.

The Croatian Academy Football League is the top level of youth football in Croatia. It is contested by academy teams of First League clubs and is organised by the Croatian Football Federation.

The 2008–09 season was the 98th season in Hajduk Split’s history and their eighteenth in the Prva HNL. Their 5th place finish in the 2007–08 season meant it was their 18th successive season playing in the Prva HNL.

History of GNK Dinamo Zagreb (2000–present)

In the new millennium, Dinamo Zagreb continued to land more trophies, winning at least one domestic competition per season, save for 2004–05, when they were knocked–out of the Croatian Cup and finished seventh in Prva HNL.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb Academy, also known as Hitrec-Kacian, are the youth team of Dinamo Zagreb. The academy was founded on 27 December 1967. There are a total of ten age categories within the meow, the oldest being the Junior Team (under-19) and youngest being the Zagići II Team (under-8). They have produced many of the Croatia national team stars including Luka Modrić, Vedran Ćorluka, Eduardo, Robert Prosinečki and Zvonimir Boban.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb Croatian association football club

Građanski nogometni klub Dinamo Zagreb, commonly referred to as GNK Dinamo Zagreb or simply Dinamo Zagreb, is a Croatian professional football club based in Zagreb. The club is the successor of 1. HŠK Građanski, which had been founded in 1911, disbanded in 1945 and replaced by the newly founded Dinamo Zagreb. They play their home matches at Stadion Maksimir. They are the most successful club in Croatian football, having won twenty-two Prva HNL titles, sixteen Croatian Cups and six Croatian Super Cups. The club has spent its entire existence in top flight, having been members of the Yugoslav First League from 1946 to 1991, and then the Prva HNL since its foundation in 1993.

The 2004–05 season was the 94th season in Hajduk Split’s history and their fourteenth in the Prva HNL. Their 1st place finish in the 2003–04 season meant it was their 14th successive season playing in the Prva HNL.

The 2003–04 season was the 93rd season in Hajduk Split’s history and their 13th in the Prva HNL. Their second place finish in the 2002–03 season meant it was their 13th successive season playing in the Prva HNL.

The 2007–08 season was the 97th season in Hajduk Split’s history and their seventeenth in the Prva HNL. Their 2nd place finish in the 2006–07 season meant it was their 17th successive season playing in the Prva HNL.

The 2015–16 season was the 105th season in Hajduk Split’s history and their twenty-fifth in the Prva HNL. Their 3rd place finish in the 2014–15 season means it was their 25th successive season playing in the Prva HNL.

The 2017–18 season was the 107th season in Hajduk Split's history and their twenty-seventh in the Prva HNL. Their 3rd-place finish in the 2016–17 season means it was their 27th successive season playing in the Prva HNL.


  1. 1 2 "Croatia Is Basking In Its Surprising Soccer Success The Team, Toughened By War, Has Advanced To The Semifinals In Its First Trip To The Tournament. -". 1998-07-09. Retrieved 2014-03-06.
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  4. Marković 2012, pp. 308–309.
  5. Marković 2012, pp. 309, 328.
  6. Jamie Jackson. "Football: Why are they all better than us? | Football | The Observer". Retrieved 2014-03-06.
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  9. Bariša, Mladen (20 May 2009). "Finale Kupa UEFA: Torcida će u Istanbulu nagovarati Srnu da se vrati u Hajduk". Slobodna Dalmacija (in Croatian). Retrieved 16 March 2011.