Champagne Kit Campaigns #8: Croatia, World Cup 98 Qualifiers

Click here for previous installments of this series, including breakdowns of Norway, Ireland and Russia’s 92/93 qualification kits, Zaire in 1974 and Netherlands in 1978.

Background

To the untrained eye, the kits worn by the Croatian national team on October 9th, 1994, against Lithuania – their first home game of their first European Championships qualification campaign – and on November 15th, 1997, away to Ukraine – the last game of their first ever World Cup qualification campaign – were exactly the same. On both occasions, the Croats donned the familiar red and white chequered design which would became world famous at Euro 96 (taking until the third game for them to wear it), with first choice white shorts and blue socks. But 3 years is a long time in kit terms, and many small changes did occur as we shall see.

Up to 94 and their competitive debut, Croatia had used a plethora of interesting and lesser-known shirts, starting with this for their unofficial match against USA in 1990 before briefly moving on to brands such as Patrick, Kappa, Umbro and Lotto (all seen here). In their last home friendly before World Cup qualifying (at home to Argentina, which was followed by an away game in Israel but we have no visual evidence of that one) a mostly red Kappa shirt was worn. However, Lotto was the brand settled upon by the time of the first game away to Estonia on September 4th, 1994.

For the Estonia trip a mostly plain white strip was used, not yet featuring the checks later seen on the sleeves of the away shirt, but shorts numbers were present:

Lithuania’s visit to Zagreb a month later saw the new Croatian home kit worn, really marking the beginning of the iconic Lotto shirt era. A Lotto logo featured on shirt, shorts and socks, but only accompanied by a wordmark on the shirt:

During the campaign small changes were made. By the time of the big home game against Italy on October 8th, 1995, blue front-numbers had been added to shirt – although not very visible – and a crest added to the shorts, along with the use of white socks to return Italy’s favour of also switching to their white away socks in the previous encounter in Palermo to accommodate Croatia’s usual blue:

This version (with the blue socks) was used up until the Croats last Euro warm-up game against Ireland in June 1996. For the Euros themselves, two of the red squares were removed from the front to allow for the number to be seen more clearly against a white background as it was on the back, and a turnover-button collar replaced the turnover-v-neck, although many wore it unbuttoned:

Red trim was added to the shorts to increase the overall colour…:

…and mandatory player names were also seen for the first time on a Croatian jersey, with more red squares making way:

After an impressive debut showing at the competition – their unique kit style to thank for winning hearts and minds as much as their entertaining style on the pitch – Croatia looked forward to take on the world next with France 98 qualifiers just around the corner.

 

 Croatia – World Cup 1998 Qualifiers  

UEFA Qualification Group 1:

Denmark
 Croatia
Greece
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Slovenia

The draw pitted Croatia against two of their fellow former-Yugoslav republics in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia, having already come up against the Slovenes in Euro 96 qualification. Unlike the Euros, only one side would qualify automatically with the runner-up entering a play-off, and Denmark were going to be the team to rival Croatia for that top-spot.

Match 1:

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Croatia
Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna, 08/10/1996

Croatia’s global adventure began (even though they would only be going as far as France) in surreal circumstances, as the renovation of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Asim Ferhatović Hase Stadium meant that the game was bizarrely moved to Bologna, Italy. Only 1500 watched amid the mostly deserted terraces as the Croats made their World Cup debut:

The shirt seen at the Euros remained, now with long sleeves for the wet conditions:

The shorts, however, had reverted back the pre-Euros style, sans- red trim:

Despite not a mandatory requirement in qualifying, the Croatian player names did remain, as did squad numbers:

On the bench, some fine, big Lotto jackets were on show:

Without home advantage (33,000 would show up in Sarajevo when the Bosnians finally got play at home against Greece in April 97), Bosnia-Herzegovina had even less chance against their stronger, Balkan neighbours, who comfortably scored 4 with 1 in return:

And with success on the pitch follows the inevitable pyro in the stands, a consistent feature of the first few games:

Result:
 Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-4 Croatia

 

Match 2:

 Croatia vs Greece
Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb, 10/11/1996

On front of a more satisfying 24,000 in Zagreb’s Maksimir, Croatia lined up for their home World Cup debut against Greece:

Some beautiful anthem jackets were on show, which easily could have been an away or third Croatian blue shirt had they chosen to go that direction this early:

One the bench, more big jackets and more checks:

You may have noticed above that already we have a kit variation here, as the white socks were reintroduced:

This was because the Greeks had worn an all-blue strip creating a would-be sock clash:

Early on Demis Nikolaidis scored a scuffed goal which didn’t really justify his sharpshooter celebration…:

…before Davor Šuker managed to bag his first of the campaign, leading to a share of the points:

Result:
 Croatia 1-1 Greece

December Friendlies:

In December 1996, Croatia went to Casablanca for the inaugural King Hassan II Trophy friendly tournament. Against the hosts Morocco, a kit-combination was worn that hadn’t so far been seen competitively and wouldn’t be seen again in this cycle, as the white away shirt was used with the blue home socks (white shorts went with both):

The shorts were actually different also, with a larger Lotto logo plus wordmark present, and no crest:

 

Match 3:

Croatia vs Denmark
Poljud, Split, 29/03/1997

Come March 97, Croatia and Denmark were greeted by 33,000 in Split with an amazing atmosphere for the biggest game of the group so far:

Different Croatian anthem jackets were on show…:

…this time the lack of front numbers making them less shirt-like, but also nice:

Now the “Euro shorts” with red trim at last returned for Croatia, making their absence even more inexplicable:

Captain Boban’s cycling-shorts under his kit created an odd but classically 90s sight:

Also odd was the Denmark away kit, an oft-forgotten blue and white affair which many would fail to identify as Danish if not informed prior:

While we’re on the subject, another thing that looked slightly off was the amount of white on the front of the Croat shirt thanks to the space for the number. The middle white square can be viewed as connecting onto the other smaller white squares around it to create a sort of jagged, diagonal panel in the centre:

In the action, Šuker was again the man to get Croatia on the scoresheet:

The pyro flowed like wine, but an 80th minute Brian Laudrup equaliser would later sour the mood:

Result:
 Croatia 1-1 Denmark

 

Match 4:

 Croatia vs Slovenia
Poljud, Split, 02/04/1997

In April Slovenia were the next guests, one side in the region known for not using their flag as inspiration for the kit-colourway:

Their dark green then was a welcome change to the red, white and blues used by many of their neighbours, here with white shorts and socks creating a classy look:

The Adidas template of the day looked great in that rich green as well:

Croatia were in the same kit on consecutive occasions for the first time in the campaign…:

…but Robert Prosinecki finally gives us a good look at the collar buttoned-up:

In a thrilling game both sides exchange blows to create a 3-3 result, including two goals for captain Zvonimir Boban:

There was more pyro in the stands for the goals, but three draws in a row meant that the next game away to Greece was more important than ever:

Result:
Croatia 3-3 Slovenia

 

Match 5:

Greece vs Croatia
Kaftanzoglio Stadium, Thessaloniki, 30/04/1997

With a slightly paltry 10,000 in Thessaloniki’s Iraklis ground, the teams line-up:

The same jackets seen against Denmark are on show, with Robert Jarni modeling the zipped-up look:

Davor also liked a buttoned-up shirt look at times:

With the Croatians keeping their home kit colours, Greece went to white/blue/white, meaning the 95/96 Italio-Croat away-sock-at-home compromise had been repeated:

The Greek shirt was quite interesting, a Diadora-made design featuring front-numbers where a crest might usually be:

The eagle-eyed may have already noticed something about the Croatian kit too, as yet another paid of shorts were in use. While still of the red trim this time there was no numbers or crest, with only the Lotto logo remaining:

Another Šuker goal on the 74th minute put Croatia back to winning ways:

Result:
Greece 0-1 Croatia

June Friendlies:

In June 97 Croatia again went “exotic”, this time with a journey to take on hosts Japan in the Kirin Cup, followed by the South Korea Cup a few days later against Turkey. Like in Morocco, these games were noteworthy as a new version of the shirt made it’s debut, featuring a larger Lotto logo now without wordmark:

 

Match 6:

Croatia vs Bosnia-Herzegovina
Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb, 06/09/1997

Back in Zagreb, cheerleaders formed a guard of honour as the teams emerged from underground for the return games against the Bosnians:

Although no pyro this time, we did have a fine crowd cover:

As in Bologna, both sides used their first preference strips:

For Croatia, the wordmark-less shirt seen in the far-East made it’s competitive debut…:

…while the regular shorts with number and crest returned:

Despite conceding through a couple of disastrous goalkeeping mistakes like this from Dražen Ladić after being ahead twice, the Croats found a winner through Boban to keep the momentum up going into a big game in Denmark next:

Result:
Croatia 3
-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

 

Match 7:

Denmark vs Croatia
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, 10/09/1997

Finally it was time for the away kit to see action in the qualifiers, on front of a rocking 41,000 in the Parken Stadium:

The red trimmed shorts with numbers, crest and Lotto logo were retained…:

…but like the now-home shirt, this was actually a slightly different version of top to that worn in 1996 – the Lotto logo was smaller and placed along side the wordmark:

The game was the most dissapointing game to date from a Croatian standpoint, with a Šuker consolation goal coming only after a first-half onslaught from both Laudrup brothers and Miklos Molnar which secured the Danes qualification from the group:

Result:
Denmark 3-1 Croatia

 

Match 8:

Slovenia vs Croatia
Stadion za Bežigradom, Ljubljana, 11/10/1997

After the Scandinavian defeat, Croatia went into the last group game away to Slovenia one point behind Greece in second. With the Greeks at home to the Danes, the Croats would be hoping to get a better result against the bottom placed side to secure a play-off place:

After emerging from the beautiful brick building above, the teams made their way onto the pitch. But something seemed missing from the Croat kit:

That’s right, the shorts devoid of numbers and crest were back:

The hosts this time realised their green shorts made more sense, and would have made more sense in the away tie:

The game ended up as a reverse of the Denmark match, with Croatia taking a 3-0 lead before Slovenia pulled one back. In Athens meanwhile, 64,000 unhappy Greeks (and probably a few nonplussed Danes) watched their side play out a 0-0 draw, meaning the Croats had leapfrogged them. Croatia were going to the play-offs.

Result:
Slovenia 1-3 Croatia

 

***Croatia progress to Play-offs***

Play-offs

Match 9:

Croatia vs Ukraine 1st leg
Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb, 29/10/1997

A not exactly packed Maksimir was the venue for the first leg, although the 28,000 still beat the 13,000 that watched Hungary be demolished 1-7 by Yugoslavia at the same time:

Nice new anthem jackets were on show, which brought back the squad numbers:

Underneath, long sleeves were worn by all to counter the cold October air, giving us a first look at the cold weather version of the “wordmark-less” shirt:

Lower down, there was yet another change to the shorts. Now numbers had been added to the crest-less version of the red-trimmed models:

And as seen from the players entrance, white socks were also back at home as the Ukrainians had carelessly worn an all-blue away kit:

Let’s get one more look at those beautiful, classic box numbers on the back too, the blue really standing out nicely from the red and white:

For once it wasn’t that guy above on the scoresheet (now collar unbuttoned if you noticed), but Bilić and Vlaović both did bag goals to put one Croatian foot in the World Cup.

Result:
Croatia 2-0 Ukraine

 

Match 10:

Ukraine vs Croatia 2nd leg
Olimpiysky, Kiev, 15/11/1997

For the away leg on front of 77,000, beautiful blue anthem jackets were worn, similar to those seen at home to Greece but without front numbers:

The bench was wrapped up warm in some classically 1997 coats as well, much needed for Kiev in November:

This time both sides wore their home strips, proving that the Ukrainians had never needed to bother with their away colours in the first leg:

With the the two teams posing for photos at different times, Ukraine stole Croatia’s end when they weren’t looking:

Despite the cold, some like Boban preferred the sleeves rolled up:

The kit otherwise remained the same from the first leg – only the second time during the whole campaign that the same exact strip had been used twice:

Only five minutes in Shevchenko gave the hosts a goal they desperately needed…:

…but it was to prove a false dawn, as twenty minutes later Alen Bokšić did this (with the help of a deflection perhaps):

And that was to be it, a 1-1 draw gave Croatia the tie on aggregate and the Chessboard Boys were going to France 98:

Result:
Ukraine 1-1 Croatia (Croatia win 3-1 on agg.)

 

*** CROATIA QUALIFY FOR WORLD CUP 1998 ***

 

Breakdown 
Team: Croatia 
Year(s): 1996/97
Competition: World Cup 98 Qualification
Kit Supplier: Lotto
Competitive Games: 10
Kit Colour Combinations:  3
Kit Technical Combinations: 8

 

***

YouTube Links:

Croatia vs Estona, 1994
Croatia vs Lithuania, 1994
Croatia vs Italy, 1995
Croatia vs Germany, 1996
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Croatia, 1996
Croatia vs Greece, 1996 A
Croatia vs Greece, 1996 B
Morocco vs Croatia, 1996
Croatia vs Denmark, 1997 A
Croatia vs Denmark, 1997 B
Croatia vs Slovenia, 1997
Greece vs Croatia, 1997 A
Grecce vs Croatia, 1997 B
Japan vs Croatia, 1997
Croatia vs Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1997
Denmark vs Croatia, 1997
Slovenia vs Croatia, 1997
Croatia vs Ukraine, 1997
Ukraine vs Croatia, 1997 A
Ukraine vs Croatia, 1997 B

*****

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