Croatia’s success thus far in reaching the last 8 at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, a first since 1998 for any Croatia side at a major tournament, is a reflection of the world-class youth set up at Dinamo Zagreb…
Dario Bašić’s side have beaten the current U-17 world champions (Nigeria), who are the most successful nation in history at that level, and European runners-up (Germany) on their way to the last 8. This generation of players know each other very well.
No team at this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup possess more players from one club as Croatia. Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb have supplied 12 players in the current squad of 21 in Chile. To emphasis the Zagreb’s club influence, 10 of the starting 11 in the win against Germany last night were Dinamo Zagreb players.
There are just two players from Hajduk Split, the country’s other big club, including reserve keeper Bruno Šutalo, who has yet to feature at the World Cup, and Ivan Delić, who has only played around 5 minutes at the tournament.
This generation of Dinamo Zagreb players are used to success.
This is the same group of players which were part of Dinamo Zagreb’s U-15 side which beat AC Milan 2:1 at Old Trafford in Manchester in the final of the prestigious Nike Premier Cup in 2013. That cup-winning side in Manchester, which featured teams like Arsenal and Boca Juniors, featured 11 players which are in the current Croatia U-17 side in Chile. The significance of the Manchester win is highlighted by the fact that more than 8,000 club sides from all over the globe try to qualify to play in the tournament.
Despite a relatively small budget and pool of players, Dinamo Zagreb’s youth academy is world renowned, ranked the 4th best in Europe behind the likes of Barcelona and Ajax. At the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Dinamo Zagreb supplied the third most amount of players at the tournament. Called by UEFA as a ‘conveyor belt of talent’, Dinamo Zagreb’s youth system has even attracted visits by a number of English Premier League clubs, including Everton.
“A lot of clubs can learn from the way Dinamo Zagreb work with young players,” said former Croatia coach and head of Dinamo’s Youth Academy Mirko Jozić.
Dinamo have nurtured players in the past of the calibre of the likes of Zvonimir Boban, Luka Modrić, Vedran Ćorluka, Mateo Kovačić, Milan Badelj former Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva.
The Dinamo Zagreb members of this Croatia U-17 team play in the Croatian youth league, as well as in the UEFA Youth Champions League, where they beat Bayern Munich earlier this month.
Croatia’s squad in Chile
Adrian Šemper (Dinamo), Ivan Nevistić (Rijeka), Matej Hudećek (Dinamo), Branimir Kalaica (Dinamo), Vinko Soldo (Dinamo), Martin Erlić (Sassuolo), Marko Đira (Dinamo), Nikola Moro (Dinamo), Luka Pasariček (Dinamo), Luka Ivanušec (Lokomotiva), Neven Đurasek (Dinamo), Marin Šverko (Karlsruhe), Borna Sosa (Dinamo), Davor Lovren (Dinamo), Matko Babić (Lokomotiva), Josip Brekalo (Dinamo), Dino Halilović (Udinese), Marin Karamarko (OSK Otok), Karlo Igor Majić (Dinamo), Bruno Šutalo (Hajduk) and Ivan Delić (Hajduk)
Players in Dinamo Zagreb squad which won 2013 Nike Premier Cup in Manchester:
Adrian Šemper, Matej Hudeček, Borna Sosa, Branimir Kalaica, Vinko Soldo, Luka Pasariček, Nikola Moro, Josip Brekalo, Karlo Igor Majić, Davor Lovren, Dino Halilović.
Croatia play Mali on Sunday night for a place in the semi-final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.