A Chequered run

Emulating a glorious past is never an easy task, but the present crop of Croatians — led by midfielder Luka Modric and towering striker Mandzukic — have the potential to go deep into the tournament in Brazil.

There has never been an age-group side like the one that won the FIFA World Youth Championships in Chile in 1987.

Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Robert Jarni and Igor Stimac — the Croatian members of that gifted Yugoslavia side — all played stellar roles in guiding the team to Under-20 World Cup triumph.

The side, which scored 12 goals in three group matches, played exhilarating, dynamic football that blew the competition away and it remains the top goalscorer in the history of the World Youth Championships.

The Croatian players went on to achieve more success in world football.

After gaining independence in 1991, Croatia was granted membership in FIFA and UEFA in 1993.

When Stimac was asked about wearing the Croatia colours for the first time, he said: “When I used to play for Yugoslavia it meant nothing. It was only sport, nothing else. Now the feeling is incomparable.”

The young side was blossoming into a fantastic one as it qualified for EURO 96 as the Group 4 winner, pipping Italy on goal difference. It lost only to the eventual winner, Germany, in the quarterfinals.

The crowning moment came in the France 1998 World Cup. Playing in the competition as an independent member for the first time, Croatia took the world stage by storm, playing some exquisite football and securing an impressive third place.

With six goals in seven matches, striker Suker was instrumental in the team’s splendid run as it beat the likes of Germany and the Netherlands.

Croatia did not lose a single match in which Suker scored, prior to the semifinal loss to eventual champion France.

After the event, Croatia zoomed to No. 3 in the FIFA rankings, having started the event as 125th in the world. It also gained the distinction of being named the “Best Mover of the Year”— an award given to a team that has jumped up the most places in the FIFA rankings over the course of a year.

But the rankings did suffer after the side exited early in the 2002 and 2006 editions.

The Croatians raised the bar in Euro 2008, topping Group B which also had Germany, Austria and Poland. They shocked Germany 2-1, but exited the tournament courtesy of a penalty shoot-out against Turkey in the quarterfinals.

In 2010, the team failed to qualify as there were too many injuries to key players during the qualification phase.

Emulating a glorious past is never an easy task, but the present crop — led by midfielder Luka Modric and towering striker Mario Mandzukic — has the potential to go deep into the tournament in Brazil.

* * * Sukerman

Nicknamed "The Wizard" or "Sukerman," Davor Suker enjoyed an illustrious international career, leading Croatia to astonishing heights.

He is currently the sixth mostcapped player (69) for Croatia. He retired in 2002, but his 45 goals will probably remain unbeaten for decades.

The ultimate moment of his career was the 1998 World Cup in France, where he won the Golden Boot by scoring six goals in seven matches and also claimed the Silver Ball as the second best player of the tournament behind Ronaldo. His sublime chip over Danish goalkeeping legend Peter Schmeichel remains one of the greatest goals in the history of the championship.

When asked about the 1998 effort, he said: "It was sensational. I will always remember before the competition the players saying, `This is the one opportunity we will have in our whole lives.'"

Named as Croatia's Golden Player for the UEFA 2003 Jubilee anniversary, he is also on the FIFA list (the only Croatian) of the top 125 greatest footballers. Suker also enjoyed a productive club career in Spain at Sevilla and Real Madrid.