Losing a Euro 2012 group stage qualifier to Greece had forced Croatia to raise the bar and shine in Friday's 3-0 away win over Turkey in the play-offs, midfielder Luka Modric said.
The Croatians will head into the return leg in Zagreb on Tuesday virtually assured of a spot in next year's finals after an effervescent display in Istanbul but Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Modric also struck a note of caution.
"We have to stay calm because we still have to play the return match, but one must say that we showed character when we needed to most," he told Croatian media after the game.
"The defeat at Greece which confined us to the play-offs triggered a long and open discussion in the dressing room and forced us to play to the best of our abilities.
"Croatia can play against anyone when we are at this level and after a long time we did exactly what we set out to do.
"The last time we played football of this quality was against Germany and Turkey in Euro 2008," said Modric.
The victory has also put Croatia on the brink of exacting sweet revenge on Turkey for a heart-breaking defeat in Euro 2008, when the Turks equalised with the last kick of extra-time and then won the penalty shootout.
The Croatians had previously won all three group matches, including a 2-1 victory against Germany who went on to reach the final where they lost to champions Spain 1-0.
Croatia's coach Slaven Bilic surprised more than just a few pundits on Friday when he fielded Ivica Olic from the start and the gamble paid instant dividends after the 32-year old striker fired the visitors into a second-minute lead.
Olic, who has been on the fringes at his club Bayern Munich after recovering from a long-term tendon injury, was at the heart of Croatia's incisive attacking with his tireless running and Bilic praised the forwards for their work rate.
"If I have to single out a particular department, then it's the running of our forwards because the kind of pressure on the ball they demonstrated is the key to success in modern football," Bilic said.
"The whole team was magnificent as everything fell into place for us but we mustn't let complacency creep in because the job isn't done yet."