ZAGREB, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Twenty years ago, Croatia led by Miroslav Blazevic won the third place at the France World Cup and put the country on the world's football map. Blazevic, known as the "coach of all coaches", is very optimistic about Croatia's chances in Russia.
"Zlatko Dalic (the current national coach) just called me to ask some questions regarding the next game against Russia. Although I appreciate that he asks for my advice, he doesn't need it. Dalic is a great coach and he is doing a fantastic job," Blazevic told Xinhua.
"Mark my words: Croatia is going to win the World Cup. We will beat Brazil in the finals and that is not only my opinion but many of my colleagues around the world think the same," Blazevic said.
He explained that the whole nation stands behind the team, just as it happened in 1998. "With such support, when you know that nation is behind you, players are extra galvanized and success is unquestionable," Blazevic argued.
Although Croatia always had superstars who have been playing in top European clubs, the national team had never passed the group stage since 1998.
It all changed last week after dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Denmark. They will play hosts Russia on Saturday for a semifinal place
Croatian media and fans are comparing this team with the "bronze generation" and somehow trying to relate this year's World Cup to the one 20 years ago. Croatia, again, has a great national team with players like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, both of whom play a significant role in Real Madrid and Barcelona, or Juventus striker Mario Mandjukic and Liverpool's Dejan Lovren.
The team is in high spirit while the nation is living through each and every game. People on Croatian streets are wearing national team shirts, cars are decorated in red and white squares, and every bar has a big TV screen with football games on it. When the national team plays its games, main squares in the city centers are full of people cheering and celebrating every goal. Fans are just certain that Croatia is on the way to repeating the success of the World Cup 20 years ago and maybe even play in the finals.
Croatian players are also confident that this team can do something special.
"We can do better than the 1998 team, but let's see," Dejan Lovren, Croatian defender told reporters in Russia after the stunning victory over Argentina.
Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona's midfielder, thinks the same. "God willing, we can achieve the same result, or maybe even more. I wouldn't say it's something that burdens us. We need to enjoy the tournament. We want to show the world how good this Croatian team is, how hard we fight for our country. Hopefully, in 20 years, they are talking about us in the same manner," Rakitic said.
Drazen Ladic was a goalkeeper in the 1998 squad whose saves lifted Croatia to the third place. He is currently serving as an assistant coach in the national team. Since he joined the team in March this year, he has claimed that this team is more talented and better than the one 20 years ago.
Croatia had only two players from big clubs in 1998, Zvonimir Boban in AC Milan and Davor Suker in Real Madrid. Others were less known.
So which team is better? The one from 1998 that finished third, or today's team that is on its way to semifinals? "I will admit that they are better only after they have done better than us. But I'm sure they'll do it and win the World Cup," Blazevic insisted.