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5 most successful footballers with obscure nationalities  

Robin Bairner
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Croatian forward Davor Suker jubilates after scori
Croatian forward Davor Suker jubilates after scoring

Many of the world’s greatest footballers will gather at World Cup 2018 later this summer, but spare a thought for those who have not qualified.

Opportunities on such a stage may be taken for granted by the game’s greats from countries such as Germany, Brazil and France, but for many, even playing in a major tournament is an opportunity that can easily bypass them.

The nature of international football means that it is not every great player who gets the opportunity to show off on the biggest stage. Wales and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, Gabon’s Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Bosnia’s Miralem Pjanic are just a few of the superstars from small countries who will not be going to Russia.

Here are five players from small countries not necessarily considered a hotbed of footballing talent who have found a way to make a lasting impression on the game with their brilliant form at club level, and sometimes by leading their countries to unexpected success on an international stage.

#5 Davor Suker (Croatia)

With a population of under 7 million people, Croatia is a nation that has punched above its weight since it became independent in 1991. For such a relatively small country, it has produced an outsized number of top-class players throughout its existence, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric perhaps the best contemporary example.

Before the midfield maestro, however, came the class of 1998, the leading light of which was Davor Suker, who was also a Real Madrid player.

Croatia caused a stir at the World Cup that year, nearly reaching the final at the expense of eventual winners France, and Suker, a striker, was a key contributor to their efforts, scoring six times during the finals to win the Golden Boot, while he also claimed the Silver Ball as the tournament’s outstanding player, finishing ahead of Zinedine Zidane but behind Ronaldo.

Such was his impact overall that year, in which he also helped Real Madrid win the Champions League, he finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting, with only Zidane outstripping him.

He later turned out for Arsenal and was a UEFA Cup runner-up in 2000.

He was Croatia’s first world-class player, although since delving into football politics when he retired, he has become a divisive figure and has been involved in numerous controversies.

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Robin Bairner
UK-based freelance football journalist for the last decade, I've appeared in publications such as the Guardian, the Blizzard, When Saturday Comes, but can most frequently be found on I write about European football, and have worked at both World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016.
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