The first Croatian football league (also known as Prva HNL or 1st HNL) or for sponsorship reasons the Hrvatski Telekom Prva league, is the best Croatian football league competition, founded in 1992. The winners will enter the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League. Dinamo Zagreb is the most successful club with a total of 20 titles. It follows Hajduk Split with six titles. Rijeka and NK Zagreb have each won a title.
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Since 2003, the league has been named after its main sponsor and bears the following names (logos below):
2003-2007 - Prva HNL Ožujsko (Sponsored by Zagrebačka pivovara and their beer brand Ožujsko.)
2007-2011 - T-Com Prva HNL (Sponsored by T-Hrvatski Telekom, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.)
2011-2017 - MAXtv Prva Liga (Sponsored by T-Hrvatski Telekom, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.)
2017 - Today - Hrvatski Telekom Prva Liga / HT Prva League (Sponsored by T-Hrvatski Telekom, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.)
The league was founded in 1991 after the dissolution of the Yugoslav First League and is run by the Croatian Football Association. Since its inception, the league has undergone many changes in its system and in the number of participating clubs. In the first three seasons, two points were awarded for a win, in the 1994/95 season were awarded three points. Each season begins in late July or early August and ends in May, with a two-month break between December and February. Currently ten teams participate in the league.
The first season began in February 1992 and ended in June 1992. A total of twelve clubs contested the league, and at the end of the season, no teams were relegated, since it was decided to expand the league for the following season to 16 clubs. There followed another expansion to 18 teams in the 1993/94 season, the highest number of participating teams in the history of Prva HNL. The following season, the number of teams was reduced again to 16. 1995-1996 Prva HNL was the first season with separate A- and B-leagues with a complicated two-stage format for the season. Twelve teams contested the A league, while the B-League, formally the second tier, consisted of ten teams. In March, the teams were divided into three groups: championship group (consisting of the first five teams from the A-League and the first-placed team of the B-League), play-off group (remaining teams from the A-League and runner-up) B-League team) and B-playoff group (remaining B-League teams). The first two teams of the B-playoff group were placed in the A-League for the following season, in which 16 teams were represented in both the A- and B-League. In the 1997-1998 Prva HNL the league consisted of 12 teams and a new format was used. In March, the teams were divided into two groups of six, the championship and the relegation group, with 50% of their points collected for this competition phase. At the end of the season, the last team descended directly into the Druga HNL, and the second-to-last team competed in the relegation playoff against the second-placed team of Druga HNL. This system was used for two seasons, followed by 1999-2000 Prva HNL, where each club played three times against each other for a total of 33 rounds. In the next season there was a return to the championship and relegation group system, but without a 50% deadline. This system was used until the 2005/06 season, with a short expansion to 16 teams in the 2001-02 season. The 2006/07 season brought back a 33-lap system previously used in the 1999-2000 Prva HNL. In the 2009/10 season, the league was expanded to 16 teams. This took three seasons, and in the 2012/13 Prva HNL season, the league was contested by 12 teams with a total of 33 laps. From the season 2013/14 Prva HNL the number of teams was reduced to ten.
Main sponsor of the league is the T-Hrvatski Telekom, which belongs to the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom. At the end of the season 2014/15, the Croatian First Football League finished 17th in Europe. The champions of the first Croatian football league 2015/16 qualify for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, the runner-up for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League and the third-placed team for the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. The winners of the Croatian Football Cup 2015/16 qualify for the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League.
The players of the Prva HNL fight for the Prva HNL top scorer trophy, which will be awarded to the top scorer at the end of each season. Former striker Dinamo Zagreb's Igor Cvitanović set the record for most Prva HNL goals with 126 goals until April 2012. Cvitanović was among the ten best scorers in seven of his eleven seasons in the Prva HNL and won the championship title twice. In the 1997/98 season he was the first player to score 100 Prva HNL goals. On April 14, 2012 Davor Vugrinec scored his 127th goal, surpassing the record of Cvitanović. Vugrinec retired in May 2015 with 146 goals. Only two other players have reached the 100-goal mark, Joško Popović and Miljenko Mumlek.
Since the first Prva HNL season in 1992, 19 different players have won the top scorer title. Goran Vlaović, Robert Špehar, Igor Cvitanović, Tomislav Šokota and Ivica Olić each won two titles. Dinamo Zagreb scored 12 for most goalscorers in the Prva HNL. Eduardo holds the record for most goals in a season with 34 goals, which was scored in the 2006/07 season with Dinamo Zagreb. Six goals is the record individual score of a player in a single Prva HNL game by Marijo Dodik.
Dinamo Zagreb were the first team to score 1,000 goals in the league after Etto scored in the 4-0 win against NK Zagreb in the 2005/06 season. The game with the highest score in the Prva HNL took place on December 12, 1993, when Dinamo Zagreb won against minnows NK Pazinka 10: 1.
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