Croa­tia be­comes heir ap­par­ent to great Yu­gosla­vian teams of the past

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY CHRIS LEHOURITES

MOSCOW | The of­fi­cial heir to Yu­goslavia’s achieve­ments at the World Cup is Ser­bia. The cur­rent stan­dard-bearer of those teams seems to be Croa­tia.

The Croats, who have reached the World Cup fi­nal for the first time and will face France on Sun­day for the ti­tle, have had the most suc­cess at the world’s big­gest soc­cer tour­na­ment since Yu­goslavia de­scended into war in 1991 and spawned seven dif­fer­ent FIFA na­tions.

Croa­tia reached the semi­fi­nals at the 1998 World Cup with a team led by striker Da­vor Suker that beat Ger­many in the quar­ter­fi­nals be­fore los­ing to host France. Croa­tia then won the third-place match against Nether­lands, the best World Cup fin­ish for any team from the for­mer Yu­goslavia.

Yu­goslavia had its own suc­cess back in the day. The team reached the semi­fi­nals at the in­au­gu­ral World Cup in 1930 be­fore los­ing to host Uruguay. There was no third-place match at that tour­na­ment, so Yu­goslavia — made up of play­ers from Ser­bian-based clubs — fin­ished fourth be­hind the United States on goal dif­fer­ence.

Yu­goslavia pro­duced a fourth-place fin­ish at the 1962 World Cup af­ter los­ing to host Chile in the con­so­la­tion match, and reached the 1990 quar­ter­fi­nals.

Those old Yu­goslav teams were known as the “Euro­pean Brazil­ians” for their neat tech­ni­cal moves that some­times pro­duced great play.

Af­ter late com­mu­nist leader Josip Broz Tito’s death in 1980, Yu­goslavia started fall­ing apart amid po­lit­i­cal bick­er­ing be­tween its re­publics. Eth­ni­cal­lyin­spired dif­fer­ences ex­ploded into wars.

Slove­nia, then Croa­tia, Mace­do­nia, Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina, Mon­tene­gro and Kosovo split from the fed­er­a­tion one af­ter an­other. More than 100,000 peo­ple died and mil­lions were left home­less in the most bru­tal con­flict since World War II.

Since the breakup started, the coun­try now known as Ser­bia has qual­i­fied for four World Cups, in­clud­ing this year’s tour­na­ment. The team was still known as Yu­goslavia when it played at the 1998 edi­tion, then be­came Ser­bia and Mon­tene­gro when it qual­i­fied for the 2006 World Cup.

The only time that team made it out of the group stage was when it reached the round of 16 in 1998.

Croa­tia is play­ing in its fifth World Cup. Af­ter fin­ish­ing third in its de­but in 1998, the Croats were elim­i­nated from the group stage at the 2002, 2006 and 2014 tour­na­ments. The only time they failed to qual­ify was for the 2010 World Cup.

Croa­tia gained mem­ber­ship to FIFA as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion in 1991, there­fore for­go­ing any claims to Yu­goslavia’s his­toric re­sults. Ser­bia, through its name changes, has re­mained a FIFA mem­ber and there­fore has rights to those records.

Al­ready break­ing new ground as a World Cup fi­nal­ist, Croa­tia will be more fo­cused on try­ing to beat France than wor­ry­ing about Yu­goslav his­tory.

“We have a good op­por­tu­nity to give them some­thing back for 20 years ago when they reached the fi­nal,” de­fender De­jan Lovren said af­ter Croa­tia’s 2-1 win over Eng­land in the semi­fi­nals. “Maybe it’s our time to re­venge some­thing.”

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