Croatia's only other appearance at a FIFA U-20 World Cup came at Nigeria 1999, when the likes of Stipe Pletikosa, a FIFA World Cup™ participant in 2002 and 2006, and Jurica Vranjes were part of the Mladi Vatreni squad. The Southern Europeans were drawn in a group with two renowned forces at this level, Ghana and Argentina, but despite their billing as outsiders the Croatians progressed to the second round with victory over Kazakhstan and draws against the two section favourites. Though Martin Novoselac's charges met their match in the Round of 16 against Brazil, they still picked up the Fair Play award at the end of the tournament.
Croatia impressed a variety of observers at the UEFA U-19 European Championship in July. Few gave them much chance in a group containing Spain, Italy and Portugal, but coach Ivan Grnja's side delivered a trio of exuberant displays to finish second behind the Spanish. A narrow 2-1 defeat to the Iberians and subsequent 0-0 draw with Italy were followed by a 5-0 rout of Portugal in their decisive final match. The Croatians eventually bowed out at the semi-final stage against France but nonetheless secured their Colombia 2011 place by virtue of their top-four finish.
Coach Grnja's current crop of youngsters boast an abundance of talent, not least in the form of Filip Ozobic and Zvonko Pamic. After becoming his side's top scorer in qualifying, Pamic was snapped up by Bundesliga high-flyers Bayer Leverkusen and is currently out on loan at Freiburg. Meanwhile, the trickery and guile of midfielder Ozobic, currently on the books of Spartak Moscow, made him the most-fouled player at the U-19 EURO in France.
Now Grnja is looking forward to pitting his charges against the best in the world next July. "We're very happy. It's a great day for Croatia. We wanted to show people that we can really play football. It was always our goal to qualify for the U-20 World Cup next year," said the 61-year-old tactician after his side rubber-stamped their tickets for the finals.