FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Croatian footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Croatia.

In terms of international football, Croatia have experienced their fair share of ups and downs.

The team that exceeded expectations at Euro 1996 in England and the World Cup two years later will forever be remembered, while the current generation that is heading to Brazil in June has also been lauded.

In turn, those displays have resulted in some of their footballers moving to some of the world's biggest clubs and leagues.

Here, to continue our countdown to the World Cup, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of the Vatreni.



10. Darijo Srna (2002-present, 111 caps, 21 goals)

Full-back Darijo Srna in action for Croatia on September 11, 2012.© Getty Images

Loyalty is a trait all too rare in today's football, but Srna is one of a dying breed. The 31-year-old has had the opportunity to join the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich in recent years, but he has instead opted to remain with Shakhtar Donetsk, whom he joined from Hajduk Split in 2003.

His allegiance has been rewarded with a host of trophies, including seven Ukrainian Premier League titles, five Ukrainian Cups and one UEFA Cup. What's more, versatile Srna has been the Ukrainian club's captain for much of that success.

After making his international debut in a friendly match against Romania in 2002, Srna has been a virtual ever-present. His 111 caps cannot be bettered or matched by any of his compatriots, while his 21 goals make him Croatia's third-highest goalscorer of all time.



9. Robert Jarni (1990-2002, 81 caps, one goal)

Croatia defender Robert Jarni battles for possession against Italy on June 08, 2002.© Getty Images

Fans of Coventry City will probably remember Jarni, although not for what he did for them on the pitch. It was seen as quite a coup when the Sky Blues signed the defender from Real Betis in the summer of 1998 for £2.6m, but before he could kick a ball, he joined Real Madrid, making Coventry an £800,000 profit.

He would last just a season at the Bernabeu, although he did score twice during a Champions League clash against Sturm Graz from left-back.

Jarni scored just one goal for Croatia at international level, but it was an important one. With the 1998 World Cup quarter-final against Germany locked at 0-0, Jarni raided forward, before sending a left-footed shot beyond the reach of Andreas Kopke. The Croats went on to beat the Germans 3-0.



8. Aljosa Asanovic (1990-2000, 62 caps, three goals)

Croatia's Aljosa Asanovic in action against Denmark in the European Championships on June 16, 1996.© Getty Images

Derby County supporters may have wondered what all the fuss is about regarding Asanovic, who spent a relatively unsuccessful campaign at the Baseball Ground in the mid-1990s.

Yet his other clubs, and in particular the Croatian national side, saw the positive side of the midfielder. Although not a prolific scorer of goals, the now 48-year-old was better known for the assists that he provided. It was his pass that released Davor Suker to score the opening goal of the 1998 World Cup semi-final, although hosts France went on to win 2-1.

He will also go down in history as having scored the first goal in the history of the Croatian national side when he found the net against the USA in October 1990.



7. Alen Boksic (1993-2002, 40 caps, 10 goals)

Alen Boksic in action for Croatia against Ecuador on June 13, 2002.© Getty Images

Such was the influence that many felt Boksic had on Croatia, his absence from the 1998 World Cup due to injury was viewed as a real blow. Although the team went on to finish third, some have suggested that they could have performed even better had Boksic been able to partner Suker in attack.

The centre-forward wasn't actually that prolific for his country, although he did contribute four goals during their qualifying campaign for France 98.

The 44-year-old played for a host of clubs, including Lazio, Juventus and Middlesbrough, but he put in his most memorable performances for Marseille, whom he helped to defy the odds to win the European Cup at the expense of AC Milan in 1993. During the run to the final, Boksic scored six goals.



6. Robert Kovac (1999-2009, 84 caps, no goals)

Defender Robert Kovac in action for Croatia on August 15, 2001.© Getty Images

A no-nonsense defender, Kovac had a knack of stealing possession from his opponent at the most dangerous of moments.

In four seasons with German giants Bayern Munich, the centre-back, who was born in Berlin, lifted the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal trophies on two separate occasions.

His importance to Croatia at international level was there for all to see at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He was suspended for the final group game against Australia, which ended in a 2-2 draw, thus sending the Aussies through to the last 16, while the Croats were eliminated.



5. Niko Kovac (1996-2008, 83 caps, 14 goals)

Croatia midfielder Niko Kovac celebrates scoring against England on May 21, 2004.© Getty Images

The elder of the Kovac brothers, Niko, was much more attack-minded than his sibling. The pair played together at Bayern, where they made contributions to the club winning the Bundesliga during the 2002-03 campaign.

However, unlike Robert, who never scored for Croatia, Niko is his country's seventh-leading goalscorer of all time. Among his tally was a brace against Iceland in a World Cup qualifier, while he also found the net against England during the group stages of Euro 2004.

Now Croatia's World Cup fate is in his hands, having taken charge of the team following the departure of Igor Stimac in October 2013. So far, he has drawn two and won one of his three encounters at the helm.



4. Robert Prosinecki (1994-2002, 49 caps, 10 goals)

Robert Prosinecki celebrates scoring for Croatia on July 11, 1998.© Getty Images

There are not many players that can look back on their career and say that they played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, let alone won trophies with the Spanish rivals. Prosinecki is one of a select few, though, having lifted the Copa del Rey with Madrid in 1993 before being part of the Barca squad that triumphed in the Super Cup three years later.

Yet despite the prestige of those clubs, the midfielder's finest moments arguably came while playing for Red Star Belgrade and Portsmouth. With Belgrade he scored in the penalty shootout as they lifted the European Cup against Marseille, while at Fratton Park, his goals during the 2001-02 campaign kept Pompey in what is now known as the Championship. Fans of the club have since voted him in their best Portsmouth team of all time.

Having played and scored for Yugoslavia at Italia '90, Prosinecki then scored twice at France '98 in Croatian colours - making him the only player to have found the net for two separate countries at the World Cup.



3. Luka Modric (2006-present, 73 caps, eight goals)

Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric celebrates scoring for Croatia on August 16, 2006.© Getty Images

When Modric hangs up his boots, there is likely to be a real scramble for the 28-year-old to sit at the top of this list, and with some justification.

Having shone for Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham Hotspur, the creative midfielder struggled initially to live up to the hype of playing for Real Madrid when he made the switch to the Spanish capital in 2012. It even got to the point where some fans voted him as one of the club's worst signings. Yet, having persisted, Modric's quality has shone through and he is now a key part of the Los Blancos starting lineup.

Since his international debut in March 2006, Modric has become a huge influence, which started in Euro 2008 when he scored his nation's opening goal of the competition from the penalty spot, before going on to be voted in UEFA's Team of the Tournament. What's more, he has also been named the Croatian Footballer of the Year on three occasions.



2. Zvonimir Boban (1990-1999, 51 caps, 12 goals)

Zvonimir Boban in action for Croatia on July 08, 1998.© Getty Images

While the likes of Suker and Prosinecki claimed most of the headlines during France '98, the team was expertly captained by the creative Boban.

In 1991, AC Milan parted with a hefty £8m to sign the midfielder from Dinamo Zagreb - a big fee at the time. He was immediately loaned out to Bari, before returning to the San Siro, where he would spend a largely successful decade. During that time, he won four Serie A titles, three Italian Super Cups and the Champions League in 1994 as Johan Cruyff's Barcelona were dismantled 4-0 in Athens.

Like a number of Croatians, Imotski-born Boban turned out for Yugoslavia earlier in his career, but then jumped at the opportunity of representing the country of his birth. It was his pass that set up Suker to score the goal that sealed third spot for the Croats at France '98.



1. Davor Suker (1992-2002, 69 caps, 45 goals)

Davor Suker celebrates scoring for Croatia at the World Cup on July 08, 1998.© Getty Images

Of his 45 goals in a Croatia shirt, most will remember the one that left Manchester United and Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel red-faced during the Euro 96 group stages. Despite an unfavourable angle, Suker sent a deft chip from the edge of the area over the advancing keeper and into the far corner of the net.

It earned him a place in UEFA's Team of the Tournament, but he'd go even better at the World Cup two years later, scoring six goals to win the Golden Shoe. His performances in France, where Croatia finished third, would see him later end up second to Zinedine Zidane in the running for that year's Ballon d'Or. Unsurprisingly, he is Croatia's leading goalscorer of all time by some margin - 16 goals to be exact.

At club level, his most successful years were spent with Real Madrid, whom he helped to win La Liga in 1997 by scoring 24 goals. A year later, he was in the squad as Madrid triumphed over Juventus 1-0 to win the Champions League in Amsterdam.



Croatia will face hosts Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in the history of Ecuador tomorrow.

Who is the greatest Croatian footballer of all time?

Davor Suker
Zvonimir Boban
Luka Modric
Robert Prosinecki
Niko Kovac
Robert Kovac
Alen Boksic
Aljosa Asanovic
Robert Jarni
Darijo Srna
Other
Davor Suker
35.3%
Zvonimir Boban
12.7%
Luka Modric
22.9%
Robert Prosinecki
5.2%
Niko Kovac
1.6%
Robert Kovac
0.2%
Alen Boksic
1.8%
Aljosa Asanovic
0.8%
Robert Jarni
0.4%
Darijo Srna
1.4%
Other
17.7%
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