Nogomet is the name that refers to the most popular sport in Croatia: football. Croatian football can be traced all the way back to the first century as the inventors of the game, or in the 1990s when Croatian football was recognized by FIFA and UEFA.
Croatian football was popularized by Franjo Bucar in the late 19th century. The first Croatian football club Backa, was founded in 1901 in the Kingdom of Hungary. The Croatian Football Federation or HNS is the football governing body in Croatia, and was formed in 1912 in Zagreb.
Croatian football league system
Croatian soccer league system is made of 8 connected series of leagues with relegation and promotion between leagues at the end of the season.
- Prva HNL is the only league in level one, and is the . It is also known as 1. HNL or MAXtv Prva Liga. This league was established in 1992 and consists of 16 teams. The winners of Prva HNL qualify for the UEFA Champions League automatically. This league starts in late July or Early August and end in May with a two months break in December and February. At the end of a season, the last team is relegated to Druga HNL, while the second last goes in relegation play-off with the second best team in Druga HNL. This league is currently ranked in position 27 in Europe by UEFA.
- Level 2 consists of Druga HNL often called 2. HNL. This is the second highest league in Croatia and was formed in 1991. It has a total of 16 teams from all over the country, although relegation is done into one of the regional divisions of Treca HNL. The winners of this league are promoted to Prva HNL.
- Level three is made of three divisional leagues: Treca HNL West, Treca HNL East, and Treca HNL South. Each regional league has 18 clubs. The winners of each divisional league are promoted to Druga HNL, while the bottom teams are relegated to the regional leagues.
The Croatian Cup
This is an annual tournament for Croatian football clubs which runs from late August to May. The winners automatically qualify for the next season's UEFA Europa League, except when the winners are also the league champions, whereby; the cup finalists take their place.
Croatian football clubs
GNK Dinamo Zagreb commonly known as Dinamo Zagreb is the most successful club in Croatia. It is based in Zagreb with its home ground being at Stadion Maksimir. This club has won 13 Croatian championship titles, 10 Croatian cups and 4 Croatian Supercups. GNK Dinamo Zagreb club was founded on June 9 1945, to replace the 3 popular Zagreb football clubs: HAŠK, Gradanski and Concordia which were disbanded at the end of World war II by the Yugoslav Communist party. Dinamo Zagreb's biggest rivals are Hajduk Split, and the match between these two teams are called Eternal derby. Their best results in UEFA competitions include: UEFA Cup Winners' Cup semi-final in 1960-61 season, UEFA Champions league group stage in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons.
HNK Hajduk Split or simply Hajduk was formed in 1911 and it is based in Split city. Their home ground is the Poljud Stadium. During the first 4 years of HNL, Hajduk was more successful than their rivals Zagreb, winning 3 league titles and reaching UEFA champions league quarter finals. On 12 September 2011, this club celebrated its 100th birthday with big celebration in Split. Their home jersey colors are white shirts and blue shorts, while the away colors are blue shorts and blue and red stripped shirts.
Croatia national football team
Croatia National football team is controlled by Croatian Football Federation. The modern Croatian football team was formed in 1990 after Croatia gained its independence from Yugoslavia. The Croatia national football team became a member of UEFA and FIFA in 1993. Their first competitive match in Europe was in 1996 during UEFA Euro qualification.
Croatia's first FIFA world cup appearance was in 1998 tournament in France. They surprised many people by finishing on third place and producing the tournament's top scorer: Davor Suker. The team was named FIFA's Best Mover of the Year in 1994 and 1998. Since Croatia became eligible to play in international tournaments, the national football team has only failed to qualify to world cup and European championship only once.
Famous Croatian soccer players
Croatia has produced some of the world's top footballer. Davor Suker is one of the world's famous footballers in the 90's. He was born in Osijek, and he began his football career at Osijek club where he scored 41 goals in 91 appearances from 1984 to 1989. Davor then moved to Dinamo Zagreb, then to Sevilla and the to Real Madrid in 1996. In 1999 he moved to Arsenal, and the moved to West Ham United and the to 1860 Munich. He made 69 appearances in Croatia national football team, scoring 45 goals.
Luka Modric is another top class footballer from Croatia. Luka was born on 9 September 1985 in Zadar. He started his football career at Dinamo Zagreb, before he went to Zrinjski and then to Inter Zapresic on loan. In 2008 he signed for Tottenham Hotspur where he has gained a lot of popularity since then. He made his full international debut on March 2006, in a friendly match against Argentina in Basel where Croatia won 3-2. He made two appearances in 2006 FIFA world cup. Other great Croatian football players include: Vedran Corluka, Alen Boksic, Eduardo Da Silva, and Igor Stimac.
Football stadiums in Croatia
There are about 26 football stadiums in Croatia. The largest stadium, Stadion Maksimir is located at Zagreb city. It is the home ground of the Croatia national football team and GNK Dinamo Zagreb. It has a capacity of 37,168 seats.
Stadion Poljud is the second largest stadium in Croatia with a capacity of 35,000 seats. The stadium was built for the 1979 Mediterranean games and is the home ground of Hajduk Split club. Other famous stadiums in Croatia include: Stadion Andelko Herjavec, Stadion Kantrida and Stadion Aldo Drosina.
Other interesting facts about Croatian football
Croatia almost unbeatable at home
Croatia have lost only one home game in the past 20 years.
Croatian & FIFA rankings
When Croatia became admitted to FIFA, the national football team was ranked in 125 position in the world, however; following their astonishing performance in 1998 world cup they moved to position 3 making it the most volatile team in FIFA rankings history.