With the world expecting Brazil's Ronaldo or Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta to pick up the Golden Boot at France 98, it was something of a surprise to see it won by a player from a country that only gained independence seven years previously. FFT speaks to Croatia hero Davor Suker...
Was France 98 the pinnacle of your career?
When I was a child I had a dream that I was playing in the same team as Diego Maradona and we were playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world like Real Madrid. I also dreamt that I would win the Golden Boot in the World Cup so in many ways France 98 was the realisation of a dream for me. It was a moment when I played the best football of my career and the Croatia team were also in a special moment. For us it was amazing to finish third ahead of some of the greatest teams in the world. We finished ahead of England, Argentina, Holland, Spain, Germany and Italy so that was pretty amazing for such a small country.
What was it like to beat Germany 3-0 in the quarter-final?
I think it was Gary Lineker who said something like "football is a game between two teams and in the end Germany win." I know that he was only joking but in some respects he was right because whenever Germany is in a big match like a quarter-final or a semi-final they seem to win. We were massive underdogs before the quarter-final but we had been playing well and Germany had not been in fantastic form. They had some great players like Matthaeus, Klinsmann and Bierhoff and they had won the European Championship two years before but we felt confident we could beat them. When they had a player sent off just before half time it gave us a massive boost and we didn't look back after that.
Were you surprised at how well Croatia did in France?
In some ways it was a surprise but in other ways it wasn't. If you look at our team we had some fantastic players who were playing for big clubs in Europe. Boban was playing for AC Milan, Slaven Bilic and Igor Stimac were both playing in England and I was playing for Real Madrid. We had a great defence with the likes of Robert Jarni and our midfield was fantastic. I guess every team at the World Cup needs a good striker and I found my form at just the right time. I gave the team a certain amount of confidence because they knew that if they created chances for me there was a good chance I would score. We also had great team spirit. We were playing for our country in its first ever World Cup and we were determined to make a positive impression. We knew the people back in Croatia were really behind us and that spurred us on to do well.
How important was the coach Miroslav Blasevic?
He was a great coach and a great leader. He treated us like adults and he gave us freedom to express ourselves on the football pitch. On the pitch he had a great captain in Zvonomir Boban who was a great friend to all the players. He was playing for AC Milan and had the respect of everyone. He helped us play together as a team and with Blasevic and Boban we knew we had the right characters in the squad to be successful.
Which was your favourite goal?
They were all very special. The goal against Jamaica was special because it was in the first match and the goal against Japan was important because it was the only goal in the game. It was the same against Romania in the last 16 and of course to score against Germany in the quarter final was an amazing moment. My goal against France in the semi-final meant we were 1-0 up but the joy didn't last too long as they quickly equalised. For me, my favourite goal was the one against Holland in our last match because it secured us third place in the whole tournament. It conformed what a great World Cup we had and it was a nice way to finish.