Twenty years ago, Croatians around the world were preparing to roar their heroes on, in what was to be the nation’s first World Cup as an independent state. On a worldwide scale, Croatia’s team did not register significantly, even though Davor Suker – soon to be a Gunner – had already made a name for himself.
And, with another tournament ahead of us, it’s interesting to see whether a newer, similarly star-studded Croatian team can make a real impact on the world stage. Croatia are second-favourites to win their 2018 World Cup group, according to World Cup 2018 odds Betfair are currently displaying. But, can they go on and make it towards the end of the cup?
After finishing as La Liga’s second highest goalscorer in 1993/94, it got even better, with Euro 1996 proving to be a watershed time in Suker’s career, amid his consistently-good performances for Real Madrid. He bagged two goals in a 3-0 demolition of cup holders Denmark at Hillsborough. That result proved crucial towards Croatia’s progression, providing the blueprint to further success stories.
Watch Suker’s Chip Against Denmark, Euro 96
Suker hit the 1998 World Cup in top form, having won the Champions League with Real Madrid that year, and partnered club legend Raul to devastating effect. Though Croatia’s 1998 group contained two teams (Japan and Jamaica) that were seen as little more than cannon fodder, the presence of Argentina was troublesome.
FOLLOW ARSEDEVILS FOR SPECTACULAR GOALS AND UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS FROM THE PREVIOUS FIFA WORLD CUPS
Ultimately, Croatia’s group went exactly as expected, with Argentina returning maximum points, and the Croatians taking six. Suker scored the killer third goal against Jamaica and a 77th-minute winner against Japan in a surprisingly hard-fought contest. A goal in each of the subsequent rounds followed, against Romania, Germany and France, before Croatia gained a moral victory in the third-place playoff with Holland.
All the talk was of Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert, who had a near-telepathic connection and could be unstoppable on their day. The Croatians were having none of it, with Premier League central defence duo Slaven Bilić and Igor Štimac stopping the front two at every turn.
Robert Prosinečki had given Croatia the lead on 14 minutes, before Boudewijn Zenden’s equalizer on 22. A quarter of an hour later, Suker continued his scoring streak, netting what transpired to be the winner.
Suker scoring his 6th goal in 1998 World Cup
Surprisingly, Suker would fall out of favour at Real Madrid, leading to his transfer to Arsenal in the summer of 1999. Regardless of his talent, he had not counted on fellow newcomers Nwankwo Kanu and Thierry Henry enjoying blistering starts to their careers at Arsenal. With Dennis Bergkamp already a vital component of Arsenal’s setup, there was simply no room for Suker most of the time.
However, that is not to say his stay at Arsenal was entirely a waste of his time. He had already experienced the highest echelons of Europe, and the few goals he did score were as classy as they get. Even now, the debate as to whether Suker was one of Arsenal’s greatest flops or not is a popular one.
Regardless of opinion, his tale has relevance today. It alludes to the fact that younger players in the World Cup, with high expectations surrounding them, should exercise caution before aiming for the big time. With the 2018 World Cup just around the corner, there are many players that are just several good performances away from being courted by a top European club.
Arsenal FC remains comfortably within that category and should have the pick of the best when all is said and done in July.
Keep Visiting Arsedevils for more news and updates on the FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia.