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Not only did they crush Argentina by 3-0 in this 2018 world cup, they also humiliated another traditional 'football power' England and made it to the finals despite their population being less than ten percent that of England's and despite not having the high profile soccer leagues that the other countries have. What is their secret? I am sure it isn't just luck.

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    Is the population of the country really relevant to their ability as a soccer team as the title of the question suggests? – Noir Antares Jul 12 '18 at 2:33
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    Of course it is, all other things being more or less equal. – user394536 Jul 12 '18 at 2:34
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    That is an absurd conclusion. I can say with assurance that you have no capacity for understanding how large a number 4 million is. If we were talking about Vatican City, or the island of Nauru, then maybe you'd have an argument. – Jason P Sallinger Jul 12 '18 at 15:54
  • While unsubstantiated, I'm convinced that success in any sport in a nation is correlated with how integrated the sport is into it's culture. This integration translates into more people playing the game, and so consequently more good players. This is why there are a large number of European nations who consistently compete in world competitions, and why Brazil is so consistently a potent force in football. As for Croatia, this world cup might be attributed to relative skill and a bit of randomness. I'd guess their historical success is probably more correlative to their population size – Canadian Coder Jul 13 '18 at 0:32
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The following article about Why are Croatia so good at football with only a population of 4 million? sums up some of the key reasons why Croatia achieved so much with a smaller player pool:

  • Hardship of the War of Independence (1991-1995):

The war affected many of this generation of Croatian players directly. Mario Mandzukic grew up partly in Germany, where he began playing before returning to Croatia at the age of 10, while Ivan Rakitic was born and grew up in Switzerland, where he started his career with Basel. Vedran Corluka was born in Bosnia but fled for Croatia in 1992 amid the war.

Younger players were less directly affected, but the memory and mythos of the war still looms large among the team.


  • After the war, Croatia immediately achieved serious and surprising football results which set the bar pretty high for the Croatian football:

It’s hard to stress enough how quickly Croatia got good. After a series of friendlies, the country’s first competitive fixture came in 1994 in the qualifying for Euro 96.

They topped their qualification group above Italy and then went on to play in the tournament itself, making it through to the knockout stages before being sent home in the quarter final by eventual winner Germany – five years after the creation of their country.

That group of players, including Slaven Bilic, Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker, became known as the “golden generation” and would go on to even greater things two years later in France 98.


  • Politics and Nationalism:

It’s been useful politically for the Croatian government to have the team to represent it. [...]

It’s a way of bolstering a nationalism that might be a little unsavoury to those in long-established western liberal democracy. The governing HDZ party has been accused of trying to exploit the team’s success as it ramps up nationalist rhetoric at home.


  • Youth Development:

With all the geo-political reasons given, the football development aspect was still the most crucial reason for the Croatian success story.

Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split were two of the “big four” clubs in Yugoslavia along with Partizan and Red Star Belgrade, and Croats were some of the best players for former Yugoslav teams.

Croatia also inherited a legacy of investment in sporting excellence from the old communist regime, from stadiums to sports academies (Modric attended one).

It's not hard to see how successful are the youth academies of Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split and how important is the overall influence of these clubs on their national team. Out of 23 players of Croatian football team squad at World Cup 2018:

All of these players play in the top European leagues in the club level.

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    Great answer for question getting close votes, "Primarily opinion based ". You must have checked these articles if you haven't you might find something to update: What is Croatia's secret to sporting success? & What makes a country good at football? – Ram Chandra Giri Jul 12 '18 at 13:58
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    @Ram, thanks, I have actually read the second article (What makes a country good at football) some weeks ago which I found really cool. But I invite you to write another answer based on those articles if you think it's worth it, which I'll enjoy reading. I'm afraid my today's contribution to our site reached its apogee and I need to back off until at least tomorrow :D – gdrt Jul 12 '18 at 14:05

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