Things to Know:
Kovač made his senior international debut in Croatia’s friendly match against Morocco on 11 December 1996 in Casablanca. He subsequently also appeared in three qualifying matches for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, but missed the finals in France because he did not fully recover from injury until the beginning of the preparations for the tournament. He was subsequently not part of the national team for two years before making his comeback in a friendly match against France in November 1999. At international level, Kovač played for Croatia in five qualifying matches for the 2002 World Cup and scored one goal in Croatia’s 4–0 victory away against San Marino. At the final tournament, he appeared as a starting player in all three group matches before Croatia was eliminated from the tournament with a third-place finish in their group. He was also a regular in UEFA Euro 2004 qualifying, making seven appearances and scoring two goals in away matches, the 1–0 winner against Estonia and the opening goal in the team’s 3–0 victory over Andorra. He also played the entire three group matches played by the Croatian team at the final Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal and scored the opening goal in the final group match against England. However, Croatia lost the match 4–2 and was once again eliminated from the tournament as the third-placed nation in its group. After Euro 2004, Kovač became the Croatia national team’s captain and led the team through the qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. He appeared in nine of ten qualifying matches and scored two goals, both in Croatia’s 4–0 victory over Iceland at home in Zagreb. At the final tournament, he appeared in all three of Croatia’s group matches, despite sustaining an injury which forced him to leave the pitch after 40 minutes of the team’s opening match against Brazil. Kovač scored the goal that put Croatia 2–1 up in the final group match against Australia. However, the match ended in a 2–2 draw and Croatia was eliminated by virtue of finishing third in the group. This was the third consecutive time this had happened in a major tournament. Euro 2008 was a bittersweet campaign for captain Kovač. His sterling performances against Germany and Turkey ultimately unrewarded in what could prove to be his last major tournament. Against Germany, he was peerless, producing a man of the match display alongside Luka Modrić whilst against Turkey, he reduced his opponents to pot shots from distance as they rarely broke through his screening protection of the back four. Before and after that game, Kovač reiterated his intention to retire from international football at the end of Euro 2008, however, after conversation with Slaven Bilić, it would seem he feels there is “unfinished business” to take care of. Kovač finally announced his international retirement on 7 January 2009, stating a desire that younger players should be given experience in the Croatia side.
Did you Know?
Croatia has represented itself as an independent nation since 1993, when the team was officially recognized by both FIFA and UEFA following dissolution from Yugoslavia. The first time Croatia used his famous chequered shirt was against USA on October 17th 1990. Given that Croatia have only been eligible for World Cup competition since 1998, having formerly competed as part of Yugoslavia, it is understandable that they should only have attended the tournament on three occasions to date. On their first outing in France, the famous cheque pattern was reduced to a mere stylized role on the right side of what was an otherwise white shirt. It was, though, back in force in both 2002 and 2006 as the shirt’s principle design, although the former incorporated white sleeves and blue trim into the design. They have always played in white shorts and blue socks, with red and white effects only added to the sock from 2002 onwards.