The world’s youngest nation and one of the oldest are all set to face each other in FIFA finals on Sunday. Croatia, the country that gained independent nationhood less than 30 years back, is the underdog of this football season, whose unexpected rise to the finale has sparked sudden interest in this rather obscure East European country. But this is definitely not the first time that the Croatians have proven their mettle on the football field. Last time it featured on the FIFA semi-finals was back in 1998 when it was a mere seven-year-old.
The fledgling Balkan state in 1998 had made its debut on the FIFA tournament back then, competing against some of the most powerful European giants like France, Brazil, and the Netherlands. It had gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and had been admitted into FIFA in 1992. Sports had an important role to play in the collective consciousness of the newborn nation, boosting its confidence in the newfound nationalist spirit. While it could not win the cup back then, it still made its presence felt. Twenty years later, as the country goes to the FIFA finale against France, it is sure to reflect into the past two decades and its generation of athletes, bubbling with nationalist aspirations.
Croatia’s entry into the modern world has been accompanied by a past that can boast of variegated cultural, political and religious influences. Having taken birth upon the ruins of the Roman empire, like most European countries did, it went on to be shaped on various occasions by Slavic, Catholic and Communist presence. Here is a look at Croatia’s rich, kaleidoscopic past.