Croatian Sport 2020: A Year in Review

By 28 December 2020
Croatian Sport 2020: A Year in Review
Illustration by Little Shiva

December 28, 2020 - Croatian sport 2020: a look at some of the top sporting moments in this pandemic year. 

To say 2020 was a strange year for sport would be an understatement. Plagued with COVID infections, canceled competitions, and empty stadiums, athletes worldwide were forced to adapt, stay in form, and hope for a better tomorrow. 

The Croatian Olympic Committee revealed that out of the planned 1,089 competitions in 2020, only 230 (or 21%) were ultimately held. But that didn't stop Croatian athletes from showing why there are among the best in the world, even in this abnormal year. 

And in 2020, Croatian athletes won 93 medals at major competitions across all ages - 26 gold, 26 silver, and 41 bronze.

A look at some of the top sporting moments in Croatian sport 2020

Croatia men's handball team win European silver

2020 opened with an incredible run by the Croatia men's handball team at the 2020 European Championships, held for the first time in three countries – Austria, Norway, and Sweden.

Croatia met Spain for their eighth major final ever and third European Championship final and was after the gold, which was the only color missing from their collection of European medals. In front of 10,000 Croatian fans in Stockholm, Croatia fell short against Spain (22:20) and took home the silver medal instead. 

Croatia captain Domagoj Duvnjak was named the player of the European Championship final and the MVP of the entire competition.


In Croatian sports fan fashion, thousands of citizens gathered at Ban Jelacic Square in Zagreb the following day to welcome the Croatia handball team and congratulate them on a job well done. 

Croatia men's water polo team took 4th place at the Euros

It was meant to be a big year for Croatia water polo, with the European Championships in Hungary, a potential Olympic qualifying tournament in Rotterdam, and Tokyo Olympics on the agenda. 

The Croatia men's water polo team kicked off 2020 with the European Championships in January and was a favorite for the gold medal after making the European final three times before (and winning in 2010). Croatia did advance to their ninth semifinal in 14 appearances at the European Championships, but was shocked by Spain and ultimately lost to Montenegro in the match for the bronze medal in Budapest. 


With a better result, Croatia would have automatically qualified for the Olympic Games but will play the final qualifying tournament in February 2021 to secure a spot in Tokyo! 

Tonci Stipanovic won the bronze at the Laser World Championships in Melbourne

After five days of sailing, Croatian sailor and JK Mornar member Tonci Stipanovic won the bronze medal at the Laser World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, back in February. A total of 42 sailors sailed in the Golden Group, with JK Mornar Split members securing the 3rd and 10th place in the competition. 

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Stipanovic's result was so impressive that the Croatian Olympic Committee named him the male athlete of the year in December! 

Croatian football came together for COVID-19 and Zagreb earthquake 

In March, COVID-19 swept across Europe and escalated, especially in neighboring Italy. The coronavirus pushed Croatia into its first lockdown as restaurants, bars, and cafes closed indefinitely, and arenas around the country prepared for the worst-case scenario. With everyone at home unsure of what was to come next, an earthquake devasted Croatia's capital. 

Croatian football, from the national team to club fan groups, came together to help those most in need during this devastating time.

The Croatia national football team raised HRK 4.2 million for the fight against the coronavirus and to rehabilitate Zagreb after the earthquake.

Together with the Red Cross City Society, Dinamo Zagreb fan group Bad Blue Boys launched the Blue Heart Action to help the elderly, infirm, and chronically ill citizens in Croatia by bringing them food and medicine so that they didn't have to be exposed to COVID-19. Around 500 group members arrived in front of Jordanovac after receiving a message to help only 30 minutes before.

Hajduk Split fan group Torcida aided in Križine Hospital's first-ever move to Firule Hospital, as Križine prepared to accommodate those with respiratory problems caused by the coronavirus. Torcida helped move all institutes, clinics, and departments from one hospital to the other. 

A humanitarian action to help KBC Split combat the coronavirus pandemic called "Breathe as One," organized by HNK Hajduk and "Bilo srce," raised HRK 870,003.59, with a total of 487 individuals, associations, and companies participating.

And that's only part of it. 

Croatian water polo legend Ratko Rudic ended his coaching career

After an impressive coaching career that spanned almost four decades, the most celebrated Croatian water polo coach decided he's had enough in May this year. 

The former Croatia national team coach won nearly everything he could during his admirable career. He planned to say goodbye by raising the Champions League trophy with Pro Recco, but the coronavirus pandemic had other plans. 

Rudic had won 67 medals, both playing and coaching, of which ten were with the Croatia national team from 2005 to 2012. 

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Shortly after he retired, one of the world’s most respected and serious media outlets, The Wall Street Journal, featured Rudic in an article titled “The World's Greatest Coast is Not Who You Think." 

Adria Tour fail

While the intentions may have been good, the debut Adria Tour tennis tournament in Zadar, hosted by Novak Djokovic and Goran Ivanisevic, among others, didn't quite go as planned. But that was probably to be expected, given the COVID-19 pandemic was nowhere near over in June when the tournament was held. 

However, the tournament did manage to get to the final, in which Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev were supposed to meet. Unfortunately, Bulgarian tennis player Grigor Dimitrov, who played one match in the Zadar tournament, tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the tournament to end immediately. 

Even so, Zadar was declared the 2021 European City of Sport by ACES Europe

The City of Zadar won thanks to its sports infrastructure, recreation and sports programs intended for citizens of all ages, encouragement to play sports, and experience organizing prestigious international sports competitions. Zadar made the first online candidacy in this award's history, which has been awarded since 2001 and was among the first to receive results.

In 2021, Zadar will carry out numerous activities with the European City of Sport's signature, all to enter the narrower competition or win the title of the best among the selected.

Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic joined the International Olympic Committee

Former President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic was confirmed as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through a Zoom video ceremony in July. 

Grabar-Kitarovic was nominated by IOC President Thomas Bach and was elected by 86 votes to three.


Slobodan Kadic

“I am extremely honored to be a member of the IOC. This is not only my personal success but also a recognition of all the achievements of Croatian sport and excellent results of Croatian athletes, who represent our homeland in the world as a nation of great talents and hardworking people, who consistently promote the principles and values ​​of the Olympic Movement," said the former president after being confirmed. 

Rijeka secured its 6th Croatian Cup title 

Rijeka celebrated against Lokomotiva 1:0 in the final in Sibenik back in August thanks to the winning goal by Tibor Halilovic in the 76th minute. This was Rijeka's sixth cup title, while Lokomotiva is still without a trophy, suffering two defeats in the final.

The club that has won the Cup three times in the last four years proved once again they know how to seal the deal in crucial moments. 

Ivan Perisic won the triple crown with Bayern Munich

Croatia national team representative Ivan Perisic was an important part of the Bayern Munich team that won the Champions League final in Lisbon, thus continuing the incredible streak of Croatian footballers to achieve the same success. This is the eighth year in a row that Croatia has had a representative in the Champions League final. 


Bayern Munich also won the German National Championship and the National Cup, giving them the triple crown for the second time ever.  

Stipe Miocic became the best heavyweight MMA fighter of all time

In their third and final meeting, American legend Daniel Cormier was beaten by Croat-American Stipe Miocic at UFC 252, making Miocic the greatest heavyweight MMA fighter of all time.


The 37-year-old Croat began the fight as a two-time and existing heavyweight champion, having started his second reign when he defeated Cormier in August 2019 at UFC 241. He held the title for 26 months in his first reign, defending the belt a record number of three times before the American legend Cormier beat him in July 2018. In his decade-long career in UFC, he has scored 13 wins over 3 losses, although he subsequently went on to beat two of the three opponents who had succeeded against him.

Ivan Rakitic retired from the Croatia national team

After 106 appearances and 15 goals for the Croatia national football team, Ivan Rakitic decided to hang up his boots. The national team's vice-captain was one of the key players in Croatia's campaign for the World Cup silver in 2018 when he scored the decisive penalties in the victories against Denmark and Russia.

"Saying goodbye to the Croatia national team is the most difficult decision in my career, but I felt that this was the moment when I had to break and make that decision. I enjoyed every game I played for my homeland, and unforgettable moments from the World Cup will remain among my favorites. I am convinced that we still have a great team with a bright future ahead. I wish my friends and teammates all the international sports luck in the upcoming challenges, and they will have the biggest fan in me," said Ivan Rakitic on his farewell.

Sinkovic Brothers won the silver medal at the European Rowing Championships 

It wouldn't be a year of Croatian sport without Valent and Martin Sinkovic, better known as the Sinkovic Brothers, who won the silver (6.29.46) in the coxless pair final at the European Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland.

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The Sinkovic brothers won first place in their semifinal group with a three-second advantage over the Italian crew. They were first in all passing times (500, 1,000, and 1,500 meters), and convincingly reached the finals, where they were behind the Romanian team in first (6: 26.52), while the Italians came in third.

Torcida celebrated 70 years with a spectacular light show 

Torcida did not let the people of Split down when they promised a spectacle bigger than Hajduk's 100th birthday. Anyone that made it to midnight that night, and trust me, there were thousands, now have memories that will last a lifetime thanks to the flare-filled spectacle

And what a sight it was. 


At midnight, the sky lit pink when Torcida launched flares and fireworks high above to celebrate 70 years of their firm, the oldest organized fan group in Europe. Torcida alone was said to have some 8,000 flares for the event.

16-year-old Croatian skier Zrinka Ljutic achieved an excellent result in her first FIS Giant Slalom Race

Sixteen-year-old Zrinka Ljutic, a promising Croatian skier, achieved an excellent result in the first FIS giant slalom race of her career.

With a starting number 114, she finished the first run in 33rd place, and in the second run, she finished in 21st with the second-best time of the second run.

The FIS races are just below the World Cup races, in which the best skiers in the world participate, and in which the last Croatian representatives were Janica Kostelic, Ana Jelusic, and Nika Fleiss.

With this result, Ljutic won 51.36 FIS points, the most that any Croatian skiers won in their first FIS race. At the beginning of 2020, Ljutic became the best skier globally, winning as many as four gold medals at the strongest international competition for young skiers.

Croatia U-21 side secured a spot at the 2021 European Championships

After a turbulent but successful journey through the qualifications, the Croatia U-21 side advanced to the 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championships!

After a huge victory against Lithuania in Pula (7:0) and Greece’s victory against Scotland (1:0), the young Vatreni won second place in the qualifying Group 4 for the European Championship back in November, and the results in other groups allowed them to place among the five the best runners-up.

Before the final round, Croatia was in a difficult, almost hopeless situation. After they played 2:2 in Scotland and the Czech Republic defeated Greece, it was clear that Croatia lost their chance for first place.

The only hope for qualifying for the Euros was to get through among the top five runners-up. However, coach Igor Bišćan's side did not depend only on themselves, but on other matches' outcome.

In the end, it all came together.



Croatia will thus play against Switzerland, Portugal, and France in Group C of the Euros next summer, one of the most difficult groups in this tournament.

Croatia national team maintained their spot in the UEFA Nations League elite group 

It was supposed to be a magical year for the 2018 World Cup finalists, who hoped to achieve another stellar result, this time at the Euros. But with the Euros postponed until next year and worrying defeats at the beginning of their Nations League campaign this season, we weren't too sure the euphoria of 2018 would linger.

With a fresh squad composed of many promising young talents, coach Zlatko Dalic had to experiment often to find a balance that worked, and it took a while to find a groove that Modric & Co. could manage.


Slobodan Kadic

Fortunately, even losing 3:2 to Portugal at Poljud Stadium in Split in their final Nations League match in November was enough to keep Croatia in 3rd place, and thus a spot in the competition's top group. 

Croatia has one hell of a year ahead, with 2022 World Cup qualifiers beginning in March before the postponed Euros take place in summer, where Croatia will meet England, the Czech Republic, and Scotland.

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares were named the best doubles team in tennis

While 2020 wasn't the best year for our tennis stars, there is something we can be proud of - Croatian Davis Cup national team member Mate Pavic and Brazilian partner Bruno Soares were named the best tennis doubles team in the world this year.

Pavic and Soares unhappily finished the group stage at the final tournament in London and did not make it to the semifinals thanks to a worse set-quotient than the remaining two pairs with two wins and one defeat. They came to the O2 Arena with only a 35-point advantage over American Rajeev Ram and Briton Joe Salisbury.


However, with the defeat of Austrian Melzer and Frenchman Roger-Vasselin in the semifinals, Ram and Salisbury remained behind by 35 points, so Pavic and Soares became the best doubles team in the world for the second time in their careers. Pavic did it two years ago with Austrian partner Oliver Marach and Soares in 2016 with British partner Jamie Murray.

Nikola Mektic became the first Croatian to win the ATP Finals

Croatian doubles star Mektic and Dutch partner Wesley Koolhof won the ATP World Finals title after defeating Austrian Juergen Melzer and Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6:2, 3:6, 10:5 in the final match of the season.


The Croatian-Dutch duo arrived in London as the fifth seed among the eight best doubles teams of the season. On the way to the title, they lost only one match, the third in the group against Kubot and Melo when they had already secured a place in the semifinals.

Interestingly, it was their last match together because they will take on the tennis world with other partners next year. Mektic will thus join his Croatia teammate Mate Pavic.

This was their third final this year and their first title since they were defeated in Marseille and at the US Open. With this victory, Mektic became the first Croatian to win the title at the end of the ATP season. 

Croatia men's basketball team qualified for EuroBasket 2022

The Croatia men's basketball team celebrated 87:72 against Sweden in Istanbul in their fourth-round match of the 2022 European Championship qualifications in November. With their fourth victory in four games, they secured their spot at the EuroBasket in two years.

No matter how Croatia plays in the last two rounds against Turkey and the Netherlands, even if Croatia loses both games, they will finish in one of the top three places in Group D in the qualifiers, leading directly EuroBasket 2022.


The last qualifying round is scheduled for February 19-22, 2021, and three of the four national teams will win a place at EuroBasket, which will be held in 2022 (September 1-18). The hosts are the Czech Republic, Georgia, Italy, and Germany.

Filip Zubcic won the World Cup Giant Slalom in Italy 

Croatian skier Filip Zubčić won the giant slalom on Saturday in Santa Caterina, Italy, with a time of 2:15.06 and a 12-hundredth advantage over second-placed Slovenian skier Žana Kranjec.

The Croatian skier finished the first run in sixth place, and a fantastic second run secured him his second World Cup victory in his career. He was the only Croatian representative in Santa Caterina to take over the organization of the two giant slaloms from Val d'Isere, France.

This is Zubčić's best result this season and his second victory in the World Cup. Last season he won the giant slalom in Naeba, Japan, and also reached two other places (Hintestoder, Adelboden).

Dinamo Zagreb made European history 

The Europa League group stage finished at the beginning of December, which saw Dinamo finish at the top of Group K with four wins, two draws, and zero defeats. Dinamo advanced to the last 32 of the competition and made sure they wrote history along the way. 


Namely, Dinamo went the longest in the Champions League or Europa League group stages without conceding a goal. Dinamo did not concede a goal for 527 minutes this season. Manchester United was the last club to hold the record, going 482 minutes without conceding a goal in the 2010/11 Champions League group stage. 

Dinamo Zagreb will meet Krasnodar in the last 32 of the Europa League competition. 

Tin Srbic, Filip Ude, and Aurel Benovic won silver medals at the European Gymnastics Championships 

To no one's surprise, Tin Srbic defended his silver medal at the European Championships in Mersin, Turkey, winning on the horizontal bar with a score of 14,600. And he wasn't the only Croatian gymnast to take home a silver medal. 

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Slobodan Kadic

It was the most successful European Championship for Croatian gymnasts because two more silver medals were won in the finals.

Filip Ude won silver on the pommel horse and repeated 2008 when he was also the European runner-up. In the same discipline, Robert Seligman took fourth place. Aurel Benovic also won the silver medal in his first European final in the floor exercise.

It should also be noted that Croatian gymnast Robert Seligman won the silver on the first final day of the World Cup in Szombathely, Hungary, back in October. In the pommel horse final, Seligman received 14,350 points, and only the Kazakh gymnast Nariman Kurbanov (14,600) was better than him to win the gold. Croatia's second finalist on the pommel horse, Filip Ude, finished 4th with 14,000 points just 0.050 points away from bronze.

Croatia women's gymnastics team also achieved a historic result at the European Championships

The Croatia women's gymnastics team fought in four finals at the European Championships in Mersin in December.

Tijana Korent, Ana Đerek, Christina Zwicker, Tina Zelčić, and Petra Furač fought in the Croatia team final. Korent performed on the vault and Zwicker on uneven bars and balance beam in the hunt for individual medals.


Croatian Gymnastics Federation

The Croatia women's gymnastics team's only individual final before this was achieved by Tijana Korent in the European Championships in Moscow in 2013. Seven years later, Tijana achieved another final, after she was eighth in the qualifiers with 13,383 points.

Excellent results in martial arts

It was a stellar year for Croatia's taekwondo stars, as Matea Jelic won the silver and Marko Golubic and Toni Kanaet won the bronze at the European Championships this year. 

Karla Prodan also won bronze at the European Judo Championships in Prague at the end of November, just a few days after winning silver at the European Junior Championships in Porec.

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Barbara Matic, who won the gold medal at the Grand Slam Judo Tournament in Budapest this year, defeating World and Olympic champions along the way, became the first martial arts athlete to win the Sportske Novosti athlete of the year trophy.  Barbara Matic broke Sandra Perkovic's series of eight consecutive titles. Before that, the most successful Croatian Olympian Janica Kostelic won eight times, Blanka Vlasic has six trophies, and Iva Majoli four.

Croatia women's handball sensational success at the European Championships in Denmark

What a way to end the year! The Croatia women's handball team were underdogs at the Euros this year, shocking tournament favorites left and right. First, they beat Hungary, then defeated the world champions, the Netherlands, and Serbia to win Group C

In the second round, they topped Romania and wrote another beautiful page in handball history because they have never achieved four consecutive wins at the European Championships. Furthermore, Croatian had never defeated Romania at the European Championships, and in four games played before this, Romania won each time.

Even a loss against Norway, who went on to win the tournament, couldn't stop Croatia, who defeated Germany to advance to their first-ever European semi-final against France. 

Croatia lost to France but defeated Denmark in the match for third place, taking home their first European bronze medal



This is the first medal in the history of the Croatia women's handball team. 

Not so bad for a pandemic year. 

Illustration by Little Shiva

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