Davor Suker's six goals won him the adidas Golden Shoe at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and to this day the Croatian striker remains his country's all-time leading goalscorer with 45 goals from 67 appearances.
Overall, Suker scored more than 200 goals during a prolific career that saw him appear at three FIFA World Cup finals, with Yugoslavia in 1990 and with Croatia in 1998 and 2002. A cerebral and predatory striker, he earned legendary status in Croatia with his flawless technique, unerring eye for goal and lethal left foot.
When he arrived in France to lead his country's attack in 1998, Suker was at the pinnacle of a career that had begun 13 years previously at his hometown club Osijek. The striker's natural goalscoring instincts brought him 40 goals in 91 matches for Osijek, and by 1989 he had secured a transfer to Dinamo Zagreb, two years after serving early notice of his potential with six goals for Yugoslavia at the 1987 FIFA Youth World Championship.
From substitute to Golden Shoe
After scoring 30 goals in two seasons at Zagreb, Suker moved to Spain, where he spent five happy years at Sevilla, for whom he scored 76 goals. His impressive tally and a memorably impudent lob over Peter Schmeichel in Croatia's 3-0 win against Denmark at UEFA EURO 96 earned him a high-profile move to Real Madrid, where the striker settled immediately, racking up 24 goals in 38 matches in his first season at the Santiago Bernabeu. "The best days of my career were at Real Madrid," he remembers fondly. "It was the best city, the best club and I enjoyed most of my success there."
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Although he spent most of Italia 90 on Yugoslavia's substitutes' bench, Suker made up for lost time in France eight years later. In a Croatia side making their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance after independence, Suker wrote his name into the renascent country's footballing folklore. In his side's seven matches Suker scored six times, failing to find the target just once, in the 1-0 defeat by Argentina.
He opened his account in Croatia's first group game, a 3-1 victory over Jamaica, before scoring the winner against Japan (1-0) to secure his team's place in the knockout stages and render their final group match against Argentina academic. Suker proved his worth again in Croatia's second-round meeting with Romania, when he held his nerve to score the only goal from the penalty spot. Then in the quarter-finals, the Vatreni pulled off a shock 3-0 demolition of Germany, Suker weighing in with the third goal of a historic win.
In the semi-final Miroslav Blazevic's men faced France, who themselves had struggled to narrow wins against Paraguay and Italy. Against the home nation, Suker scored yet again, breaking the deadlock two minutes into the second half to become one of only two players to beat Fabien Barthez in the whole tournament.
But, with an incredible final appearance in sight, Lilian Thuram put paid to Croatian hopes with two stunning strikes, made all the more remarkable for coming from a defender who had never before scored for his country. Croatia's impressive run had come to an end, but Suker took out his frustrations on the Netherlands, scoring the winning goal in the 2-1 third-place play-off victory, thereby claiming the title of tournament top scorer.
Look back at France 98
The 2002 FIFA World Cup was not such a happy event for Suker. He only played in his country's opening game against Mexico, a 1-0 defeat, and had to watch from the bench as Croatia beat Italy 2-1 before crashing out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Ecuador.
Suker's club career followed a similar path and he struggled to recapture the form of his first season at Madrid, appearing only as an 89th-minute substitute in their UEFA Champions League final win over Juventus. After spells at Arsenal and then West Ham United his career came to an end in the Bundesliga with 1860 Munich where, in April 2002, he scored his 200th professional goal.
A true legend in Croatian sport, Suker's achievements were formally recognised by his country's football federation, who awarded him the title of 'golden player' an accolade which he treasures. "With the exception of winning the top goalscorer award at the World Cup, this is the most important title that has ever been presented to me and an honour I am immensely proud to have received," he said.