Football in Croatia
Home stadium of club Hajduk Split, a club on the coast of Split
Governing bodyCroatian Football Federation (HNS)
National team(s)men's national team
women's national team
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions

Football in Croatia is the country's most popular sport.[1][2] The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) is the governing body and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of association football in the nation, both professional and amateur.[3] The national and club teams are governed by UEFA in Europe and FIFA in global competitions. The history of the sport is delineated by a variety of unofficial sides as Croatia was not an independent entity until the late 20th century.[4][5]

The club teams that compete domestically do so in the top flight, the Croatian Football League (Hrvatska nogometna liga), the second-tier, First Football League (Prva NL), the third-tier, Second Football League (Druga NL), and fourth-tier Third Football League (Treća NL). The counties of Croatia likewise compete in a regional league system. Club teams contest their respective league championships, the Croatian Cup, and the Croatian Super Cup. The two largest club teams are Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split, who share a rivalry.

The national team of Croatia is a major sporting franchise in European and international football.[2][6] They have qualified for every major tournament with the exception of Euro 2000 and the 2010 World Cup. Croatia has reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA European Championship twice (1996, 2008) and finished second in the UEFA Nations League in 2023. At the FIFA World Cup, Croatia were the runners-up once (2018) and third on two occasions (1998, 2022), securing three World Cup medals.[7]


A plaque in Rijeka marking the site of the 1873 football game

The earliest record of football in Croatia dates from 1873, when English engineers and technicians for Stabilimento tecnico Fiumano played in Rijeka against the engineers building the local railway line,[8] with local Fiumans also taking part in the game.[9] The first recorded football match in the Kingdom of Croatia was played in 1880 in Županja, between English workers of The Oak Extract Company and local youths.[8] In 1890 the first school-based football clubs are founded by high school students in Rijeka.[9] The sport was further popularized in Croatia by Franjo Bučar in the 1890s.[10] The Croatian translation of the sport's name, nogomet, was coined by the linguist Slavko Rutzner Radmilović in 1893 or 1894.[11] The name was adopted into Slovenian as well. In 1896, the first edition of the Rules of the Football Game in Croatian was printed in Zagreb.[12]

The earliest officially registered association football clubs were founded in Pula before the turn of the century, when in August 1899 the locals founded Club Iris and later in the same year Veloce Club,[13] both multi-sport association with very popular football sections.[14] The first clubs to be founded in the then Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia per se were HAŠK and PNIŠK, in 1903. In Rijeka, the Hungarian-leaning Fiumei Atletikai Club was founded in 1905 and the multicultural CS Olimpia in 1904, but Olimpia's football section may have held its first seating only in 1906 (the date is still debated among historians). In the same year, the Giovine Fiume club was founded by the Italian irredentist youth of the city and HŠK Concordia was established in Zagreb. između HAŠK-a i PNIŠK-a.

The first public football match in Croatia was played on Marulić Square in Zagreb on October 28, 1906 between HAŠK and PNIŠK and ended with a score of 1:1. This match was played according to the then only valid English rules. The HAŠK team then consisted of the following players: Hinko Würth, Josip Besednik, Hugo Kuderna, Josip Novak, Ivo Lipovšćak, Anđelo Grgić, Marko Kostrenčić, Dragutin Albrecht, Marko Kren, Vladimir Erbežnik, Zvonimir Bogdanović; while the following played for PNIŠK: Dragutin Baki, Jan Todl, Veljko Ugrinić, Schreiber, Kiseljak, Pilepić and Uhrl.[12]

Among the other early clubs are Victoria and Olimpija Karlovac, created in 1908. 1908 also saw the first recorded win by a Croatian city-based club against an English side, when CS Olimpia beat the official football team of the Cunard Line ship RMS Brescia 1-0.[9] In 1909 GŠK Marsonia started playing in Slavonski Brod and Rijeka's then strongest side Fiumei AC was invited to play officially in the Hungarian Championship, but turned down the offer. In the same year, Segesta officially appeared for the first time in Sisak.

In 1910 the club Forza e Coraggio was founded in Dubrovnik and the Società Ginnastica e Scherma in Zadar officially opened its football section. The two would battle in the first Dalmatian Championship in 1911,[15] won by Forza e Coraggio, which was then forced by the authorities to change its name to U.S. Ragusa.[16] Hajduk, Građanski and SK Opatija were all founded in the same year, 1911.[17] The first football club to be founded purely by Croats was Bačka in Subotica in 1901, in what was then the Kingdom of Hungary and is today Serbia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zrinjski Mostar was founded by Croats in 1905 and was the first club to be founded in that country. The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) itself was created in 1912, which was also the year of the first Croatia and Slavonia championship.[18]

The football section of HŠS 1912-13. organized the first Croatian football championship, in which clubs exclusively from Zagreb, Građanski, HAŠK, Concordia, AŠK Croatia and Tipografski športski klub Zagreb participated. This first championship was not completed due to unsportsmanlike behavior, and the new one was interrupted in 1914 due to the war.[12] In 1912 the Dalmatian championship was won by Società Bersaglieri and in its third season by Calcio Spalato, who then played and lost against the strongest club from the Trieste region, Edera.[15]

Football in Croatia is located in Croatia
Zagreb clubs:
Zagreb clubs:
Teams from the Republic of Croatia which competed in the Yugoslavian football championship from 1923–1940

After World War I, Croats played a major part in the founding of the first football federation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later named the Football Association of Yugoslavia. Its headquarters were initially in Zagreb before moving to Belgrade in 1929. This was an era when great talents like Ico Hitrec dominated the national fields. In 1927, Hajduk Split took part in the inaugural Mitropa Cup, a tournament dedicated to the best Central European clubs.

Croatia itself played its first international football match as a representative team of the Banovina in a match held on April 2, 1940 against Switzerland. During World War II, the Croatian Football Federation joined FIFA as a representative of the Independent State of Croatia, but this was contentious and short-lived, as was the fascist puppet-state of which it was part. After the war, football was resumed within the institutional framework of the second Yugoslavia. The communist regime in the new state quickly moved to apply a damnatio memoriae to all club names and brands involved in the Croatian or Italian championships or which bore obviously Croatian or Italian national names. The government in Belgrade justified the rearrangement of all local football clubs with its plan to copy the Stalinist model of athletic organisation, merging all local clubs into omni-comprehensive sport unions—often forcing local institutions and party representatives to enact a total rebranding of the local clubs' identities—and thus bring them into line with communist goals and ideals.[19]

Following these policies, Građanski was rebranded into NK Dinamo Zagreb, U.S. Fiumana (CS Olimpia's name under the Italian fascist regime) became S.C.F. Quarnero in Yugoslavia, ŽŠK Victoria became NK Lokomotiva in Zagreb, and dozens of other less famous clubs followed suit. Most clubs had henceforth to explicitly display loyalty to the new regime, and it was common for them to feature the communist red star as part of a new emblem, often paired with proletarian sounding and appealing identities.[20] Among the victims of these changes, some clubs were completely disbanded, including top sides Concordia, PNIŠK and HAŠK, as well as major ethnic Croat clubs in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina, SAŠK and HŠK Zrinjski Mostar. One of the very few large Croatian clubs to avoid restructuring was Hajduk Split, who had refused to participate in the fascist Croatian competition and had strong links with the partisan army of Tito.

As Tito broke with Stalin, in the 1950s most sport unions reverted to purely football clubs. Over the following decades, Croatian clubs performed well in the Yugoslav First League and the Yugoslav Cup. Hajduk and Dinamo formed one half of the Big Four of Yugoslav football (the other two being FK Partizan and Red Star Belgrade). Rijeka won 2 Yugoslav cups. In 1967, Zlatko Čajkovski of German club Bayern Munich became the only Croatian manager to win the European Cup Winners' Cup. After Croatia gained independence in the 1990s, the football federation was reconstituted and joined the international associations.[21] The Croatian internationals from the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship-winning team went on to achieve more success, spawning the "golden generation" who finished in third place at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.[22] Since then, Croatia has continued to produce top players. At the more recent Euro 2008, they famously beat 2006 FIFA World Cup bronze medalists Germany 2–1 in a shock win but exited the tournament courtesy of a penalty shoot-out defeat to Turkey in the quarterfinals. The national team's best performance came at the 2018 World Cup, where they finished as runners-up, losing 2–4 to France in the final. Croatia followed the achievement by again finishing third in the 2022 World Cup, after a 2–1 win over Morocco.

Earliest clubs in Croatia

Club Year City, Region Description Dissolution
Club Iris 1899 Pula, Austrian Littoral Football section opened in August 1899. Dissolution date unknown. ?
Veloce Club Polese 1899 Pula, Austrian Littoral Football section of cycling club. Dissolution date unknown. ?
PNIŠK 1903 Zagreb, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia 1909
HAŠK 1903 Zagreb, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia 1945
Club Sportivo Olimpia 1904 Rijeka, Corpus Separatum Later renamed to NK Rijeka. Still Active
Fiumei Atletikai Club 1905 Rijeka, Corpus Separatum Dissolution date unknown. ?
Segesta Sisak 1906 Sisak, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia Still Active
Giovine Fiume 1906 Rijeka, Corpus Separatum 1912
HŠK Concordia 1906 Zagreb, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia 1945
Törekves SE 1907 Rijeka, Corpus Separatum Dissolution date unknown. ?
AŠK Croatia 1907 Zagreb, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia 1945
HŠK Victoria Sušak 1908 Sušak, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia 1948
GŠK Marsonia 1909 Slavonski Brod, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia Still Active
Associazione Sportiva Edera 1910 Pula, Austrian Littoral 1926
Forza e Coraggio 1910 Dubrovnik, Kingdom of Dalmatia In 1912 renamed Unione Sportiva di Ragusa. Dissolution date unknown. ?
Società Ginnastica e Scherma Zara 1910 Zadar, Kingdom of Dalmatia Dissolution date unknown. ?
NK Zmaj 1910 Zadar, Kingdom of Dalmatia Later renamed in NK Arbanasi. Still Active
Calcio Spalato 1910 Split, Kingdom of Dalmatia Dissolved in the '20s '20s
Nogometni Odjel Sokola Opatija - Volosko 1911 Opatija, Austrian Littoral Later renamed NK Opatija. Still Active
1. HŠK Građanski 1911 Zagreb, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia Later renamed to NK Dinamo. Still Active
Unione Sportiva 1911 Dubrovnik, Kingdom of Dalmatia Dissolution date unknown. ?
NK DAVOR 1911 Dubrovnik, Kingdom of Dalmatia Dissolution date unknown. ?
HŠK Hajduk 1911 Split, Kingdom of Dalmatia Still Active
DFV Vorwärts Abbazia 1912 Opatija, Austrian Littoral German minority club. Official dissolution date unknown. ?
Tornai SE 1912 Rijeka, Corpus Separatum Hungarian minority club. Official dissolution date unknown. ?
HRŠD Anarh 1912 Split, Kingdom of Dalmatia Later renamed to RNK Split. Still Active
HŠK Slaven 1912 Koprivnica, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia Still Active
Olimpija Suhopolje 1912 Suhopolje, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia 1916
SK Lav 1913 Knin, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia Later renamed to HNK Dinara. Still Active
HŠK Šparta 1913 Zagreb, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia Later renamed to NK Šparta-Elektra. Still Active

Clubs in European competitions

Main article: Croatian football clubs in European competitions

Best results

The table below lists Croatian clubs' best results in elimination rounds of European club competitions:

Competition Season Round Team 1 Agg. Team 2 1st leg 2nd leg
UCWC 1960–61 SF Fiorentina Italy 4–2 Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Dinamo Zagreb 3–0 1–2
UCWC 1972–73 SF Leeds United England 1–0 Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Hajduk Split 1–0 0–0
EC 1975–76 QF Hajduk Split Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 2–3 Netherlands PSV Eindhoven 2–0 0–3 (aet)
EC 1979–80 QF Hamburger SV Germany 3–3 (a) Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Hajduk Split 1–0 2–3
UC 1983–84 SF Hajduk Split Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 2–2 (a) England Tottenham Hotspur 2–1 0–1
UCL 1994–95 QF Hajduk Split Croatia 0–3 Netherlands Ajax 0–0 0–3
EL 2020–21 QF Dinamo Zagreb Croatia 1–3 Spain Villarreal 0–1 1–2
UCWC 1998–99 QF Varteks Croatia 1–3 Spain Mallorca 0–0 1–3

Footballers in international club competitions

The following table lists all Croatian players who are credited to win an international final (either appeared in the final, being unused substitutes or were in the squad in earlier rounds of the tournament). It does not include Croatians who were considered Yugoslav players prior to Croatia's independence in 1991.

As of 2022 a total of eleven Croatian players are credited as winning the Champions League: Alen Bokšić, Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker, Dario Šimić, Igor Bišćan, Mario Mandžukić, Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Mateo Kovačić, Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perišić, although Šimić, Bišćan and Lovren did not appear in the finals.[23] In terms of appearances, fourteen players have played in the final (Bokšić, Boban, Šuker, Boris Živković, Marko Babić, Igor Tudor, Dado Pršo, Ivica Olić, Mandžukić, Modrić, Rakitić, Lovren, Perišić and Kovačić), but only five players appeared more than once – Bokšić (1993, 1997), Boban (1994, 1995), Olić (2010, 2012), Mandžukić (2013, 2017) and Modrić (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2022). Two Croatian players have scored a goal in the final match, Mandžukić in the 2013 and 2017 final, and Rakitić in the 2015 final.

As of 2023 a total of eight Croatian players are credited as winning the Europa League: Mario Stanić, Ivica Olić, Ivica Križanac, Darijo Srna, Ivan Rakitić, Šime Vrsaljko, Mateo Kovačić and Kristijan Jakić – although Stanić did not appear for his club in the final. The only Croatian player to have scored a goal in the final match was Nikola Kalinić in the 2015 final.[24]

Ranking Name Team(s) Years CL EL SC FCWC CWC IC Total
1 Luka Modrić Real Madrid 2014–2023 5 0 4 4 0 0 13
2 Mateo Kovačić Real Madrid, Chelsea 2016–2021 4 1 3 3 0 0 11
3 Ivan Rakitić Sevilla, Barcelona 2014–2023 1 2 1 1 0 0 5
4 Dario Šimić Milan 2003–2007 2 0 1 1 0 0 4
5 Alen Bokšić Marseille, Juventus, Lazio 1993–1999 1 0 0 0 1 1 3
Mario Mandžukić Bayern Munich 2013 1 0 1 1 0 0
7 Zvonimir Boban Milan 1994 1 0 1 0 0 0 2
Davor Šuker Real Madrid 1998 1 0 0 0 0 1
Igor Bišćan Liverpool 2001–2005 1 0 1 0 0 0
Ivica Križanac Zenit Saint Petersburg 2008 0 1 1 0 0 0
11 Robert Jarni Real Madrid 1998 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
Mario Stanić Parma 1999 0 1 0 0 0 0
Niko Kovač Bayern Munich 2001 0 0 0 0 0 1
Robert Kovač Bayern Munich 2001 0 0 0 0 0 1
Ivica Olić CSKA Moscow 2005 0 1 0 0 0 0
Darijo Srna Shakhtar Donetsk 2009 0 1 0 0 0 0
Šime Vrsaljko Atlético Madrid 2018 0 1 0 0 0 0
Nikola Kalinić Atlético Madrid 2018 0 0 1 0 0 0
Dejan Lovren Liverpool 2019 1 0 0 0 0 0
Ivan Perišić Bayern Munich 2020 1 0 0 0 0 0
Kristijan Jakić Eintracht Frankfurt 2022 0 1 0 0 0 0
  Abolished competition


The governing body of football in Croatia is the Croatian Football Federation.[25] It oversees the organization of:


The following articles detail major results and events in each footballing season since the early 1990s, when the Croatian First Football League was established. Each article provides final league standings for that season, as well as details on cup results, Croatia national football team results, and a summary of any other important events during the season.

01990s0 1990–910 1991–920 1992–930 1993–940 1994–950 1995–960 1996–970 1997–980 1998–990 1999–20000
02000s0 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10
02010s0 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20
02020s0 2020–21 2021–22 2022–23 2023–24


Main article: List of football clubs in Croatia

According to many surveys conducted by multiple newspapers, the most popular club in Croatia is Dinamo Zagreb which is also the most successful club. Their main rivals are Hajduk Split, followed by HNK Rijeka and NK Osijek.


Futsal, called mali nogomet (lit. "small football") in Croatia, is also widely played and is sometimes considered as a mini football league. It is often taught in schools and also played by football professionals as a pastime.

The Croatian First League of Futsal is the top-tier futsal competition where majority of Croatia national futsal team is selected.

There are also national competitions in other minifootball versions.


See also: List of Croatian football supporters' associations

The Croatian football fans organize in various fan groups such as the Torcida (Hajduk), Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo), Armada (Rijeka), Kohorta (Osijek), etc.

On the international games, the Croatian fans usually wear the checkerboard colors red and white, as they are on the Croatian coat of arms.

See also


  1. ^ Smith, Rory (2022-12-12). "The Team That Refuses to Lose". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-12-18.
  2. ^ a b De Launey, Guy (2013-05-01). "What is Croatia's secret to sporting success?". BBC News. Retrieved 2022-12-18.
  3. ^ "Croatia Is Basking In Its Surprising Soccer Success The Team, Toughened By War, Has Advanced To The Semifinals In Its First Trip To The Tournament. -". 1998-07-09. Retrieved 2014-03-06.
  4. ^ Rogić, Marijan (2008). Hrvatsko nogometno predstavništvo 1940. - 2008 (in Croatian). Zagreb: Gipa. ISBN 9789539529718.
  5. ^ Sengupta, Arjun (2022-12-10). "The improbable rise of the Croatian football team". The Indian Express. Retrieved 2022-12-16.
  6. ^ Smith, Rory (2022-12-12). "The Team That Refuses to Lose". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-12-18.
  7. ^ Morse, Ben (2022-12-17). "Croatia beats Morocco in World Cup third-place playoff match". CNN. Retrieved 2022-12-17.
  8. ^ a b Marković 2012, p. 307.
  9. ^ a b c Moranjak, Zlatko; Burburan, Ferruccio (2006). Rijeka Nogometa. Rijeka: VSDR. pp. 27–28, 42, 44, 46. ISBN 9537070107.
  10. ^ Marković 2012, pp. 308–309.
  11. ^ Marković 2012, pp. 309, 328.
  12. ^ a b c "Prije 115 godina odigrana je prva službena nogometna utakmica u Hrvatskoj". Retrieved 2023-11-01.
  13. ^ Percan, Anton (2011). Nogomet u Puli. Pula: Pula : Histria Croatica C.A.S.H. ISBN 978-953-255-029-0.
  14. ^ "VIRTUAL MUSEUM". NK Istra 1961. Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  15. ^ a b "Zara, le prime disfide contro ragusei e spalatini (1 e continua)". Retrieved 2021-11-05.
  16. ^ "Croatia - Dalmatia 1910-1919". RSSSF. Retrieved 2021-11-05.
  17. ^ "POVIJEST". NK OPATIJA - nogometni klub. Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  18. ^ "Povijest - Hrvatski nogometni savez". Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  19. ^ Mills, Richard (2018). The Politics of Football in Yugoslavia: Sport, Nationalism and the State. London, U.K.: I.B. Tauris. pp. 77, 80, 82, 87–89. ISBN 9781784539139.
  20. ^ Mills, Richard Mervyn Stanley (2019). Nogomet i politika u Jugoslaviji : sport, nacionalizam i država. Ivana Karabaić (1. izd ed.). Zagreb: Profil. ISBN 978-953-313-719-3. OCLC 1159069330.
  21. ^ Jamie Jackson. "Football: Why are they all better than us? | Football | The Observer". Retrieved 2014-03-06.
  22. ^ Launey, Guy De (2013-05-02). "BBC News – What is Croatia's secret to sporting success?". Retrieved 2014-03-06.
  23. ^ "Olić osmi hrvatski igrač u finalu Lige prvaka". (in Croatian). HINA. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  24. ^ Bariša, Mladen (20 May 2009). "Finale Kupa UEFA: Torcida će u Istanbulu nagovarati Srnu da se vrati u Hajduk". Slobodna Dalmacija (in Croatian). Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  25. ^ "When Saturday Comes – Power shifts at the top of Croatian football". 2012-07-09. Archived from the original on 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2014-03-06.