Have Croatia ever qualified for the semi-finals of a World Cup? When?
Croatia are in the semi-finals in Qatar after knocking Brazil out of World Cup 2022 - and it’s by no means the Vatreni’s first time in the last four.
Croatia upset the odds in the 2022 World Cup’s opening quarter-final on Friday, dumping Brazil out on penalties after Bruno Petkovic’s late extra-time equaliser had forced a shootout.
Croatia into semis after never-say-die win over Brazil
Neymar’s sublime solo goal in the second half of extra time appeared to have earned Brazil a World Cup semi-final spot, but with three minutes remaining in the additional half an hour, Petkovic’s deflected shot beat Alisson to keep the Croats alive.
The last-eight clash had finished 0-0 after 90 minutes.
Livakovic stars again for the Croats
Having pulled off several key saves during the game, goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was again the hero for Croatia when it went to penalties. The 27-year-old had parried three spot-kicks in a shootout against Japan in the last 16, and on Friday he added another stop to his tally by keeping out the Brazilians’ first penalty, taken by Rodrygo Goes.
Later in the shootout, Brazil’s Marquinhos sent his kick against the post to hand Croatia a 4-2 triumph from 12 yards. Zlatko Dalic’s men will face Argentina in the semi-finals on Tuesday, after the Albiceleste knocked out the Netherlands on penalties in Friday’s second quarter-final.
Croatia into third World Cup semi-final
Brazil had gone into the quarters as heavy favourites, the bookmakers unanimously backing them to progress to their ninth World Cup semi-final - so it’s a result that is widely being referred to as an upset. This writer’s minute-by-minute match report is among the places you’ll find such a description.
Looking at Croatia’s World Cup record, however, is that really fair on them? After all, this is now the third time in just seven attempts that the Vatreni have reached the tournament’s last four. That’s as many semi-final appearances as Brazil have managed in the same period! The Croats are becoming a familiar presence in the latter stages.
Croatia’s World Cup record: at a glance
Croatia’s first World Cup semi-final: France 1998
Croatia reached the semis for the first time in 1998, in their first World Cup appearance since gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia.
Led by tournament top scorer Davor Suker, who scored six times, the Croats finished second in a group also featuring Argentina, Jamaica and Japan, before edging Romania 1-0 in the last 16. A 3-0 win over then-European champions Germany then followed in the quarter-finals, securing Miroslav Blazevic’s side a last-four matchup with tournament hosts France. However, although Croatia took the lead over the French through Suker, Lilian Thuram’s double sent eventual winners Les Bleus into the final.
Four days later, a 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the third-place playoff earned the World Cup debutants a bronze-medal finish.
Croatia’s second World Cup semi-final: Russia 2018
Twenty years on, Croatia returned to the last four of the World Cup - and this time they made it through to the trophy decider. As in 2022, they were captained by star midfielder Luka Modric, who was not only named player of the tournament, but also went on to win the Ballon d’Or later that year.
Coached by Dalic, who was appointed as national-team boss in 2017, Croatia topped a group that again included Argentina, before penalty shootout wins over Denmark and hosts Russia in the last 16 and quarter-finals, respectively. Qualification for the semi-finals set up a clash with England in Moscow - and, for the third tie running, extra time was needed.
Kieran Trippier’s free-kick gave the English the lead after only five minutes, but Ivan Perisic’s second-half leveller took the game into the additional period. Another penalty shootout appeared to be looming, until Mario Mandzukic struck in the 109th minute to send Croatia into their first ever World Cup final.
Sadly for the Croats, it was a final in which they were unable to get their hands on a maiden world title. And as in 1998, it was the French who ended their hopes. Perisic and Mandzukic were both on target for the Vatreni, but a Kylian Mbappé-inspired France scored four at Luzhniki Stadium, as Didier Deschamps’ men clinched their country’s second global crown.