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Posted at: Jul 13, 2018, 1:52 AM; last updated: Jul 13, 2018, 1:52 AM (IST)

Dream continues...

Croatia yet again come back from behind and beat England in extra time to enter first World Cup final

MOSCOW, July 12

Croatia yet again showed their magnificent resilience to come from behind and beat England 2-1 on Wednesday as Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time goal sent them into their first World Cup final and a possible revenge mission against France. 

For the third successive knockout game the Croats trailed, this time to Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute free kick, but they fought back once more to force extra time. Ivan Perisic leveled after 68 minutes and, having got past Denmark and Russia on penalties, Croatia rolled up their sleeves for another extra period.

This time they did not need the shootout as, seemingly gaining in energy when they should have been on their knees, they took charge and won it when Mandzukic struck with a well-taken low shot in the 109th minute. 

“This tournament will be won by a team with character. We were 1-0 down in three games in a row,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “For Croatian football and the country this is history being written — I can’t think of a smaller country to reach the final.”

Croatia become the 13th team to contest the final and the first new finalists since Spain in 2010.

Since their dream run to the last-four in 1998, their first tournament as an independent nation, Croatia have failed to get past the group stage, with every subsequent failing team being compared unfavorably with the heroes of France. This side, however, have gone one better and will get the chance to avenge the defeat of 20 years ago when they face the French on Sunday at the Luzhniki Stadium. 

“This has been the topic of discussion the past 20 years,” Dalic said. “Maybe that game has historical significance maybe, the dear Lord is giving us the chance to settle a score.”

That they will have that chance is due in part to their fitness, attitude and finishing quality but also to England’s failure to take full advantage of a totally dominant first half. 

Exhausted Croatia must draw on reserves

It was no surprise that Croatia cavorted on the pitch in celebration with fans and family long after beating England on Wednesday night, but a wiser head might have ushered them quietly to ice bath and bed.

It was never going to happen, of course, as the ecstasy of taking a tiny nation to the final of the World Cup for the first time needed to be worked through with the people that provided the players with support and inspiration.

The fact remains, though, that on Sunday they will play the biggest match of their lives against a France side bursting with youth and vigour that has had a day more rest and played the equivalent of a match fewer over the knockout rounds.

While going to 30 minutes of extra time in all three of their sudden death matches — not to mention emotional energy-sapping penalty shootouts in two — has proved beyond doubt Croatia’s resilience, it has taken its toll. “Some players played with minor injuries with which they would not have played some other games. Two players played with half a leg, but it didn’t show,” coach Zlatko Dalic said.

Mario Mandzukic typified their efforts, running himself into the ground in the lone striker role but taking his chance to score the winner clinically when it presented itself nearly 20 minutes into extra time. “We were like lions out there tonight and we will be the same in the final,” he said.

That the nation will be backing them to gain revenge for the World Cup semifinal loss to France in 1998 is without question, as is the fact that there will once again be an army of fans decked out in red and white checks at the Luzhniki Stadium. “We were louder, they were carrying us, they picked us up when we were not in control of the game,” Dalic said of the supporters.

“For Croatian football and Croatia as a country, this is history being written. I don’t know of a smaller country in a World Cup final.” — Reuters

"What our players did today, the strength they’ve shown, the stamina, the energy levels. I wanted to substitute but no one wanted to be subbed, everybody kept saying ‘I’m ready, I can run on’. Some players played with minor injuries with which they would not have played some other games. Two players played with half a leg, but it didn’t show! ...this shows character and what makes me proud. Nobody gave up.   Zlatko Dalic, Croatia coach

"I think in the first half we were really good and maybe we could have got another goal. I can’t ask for more from the players. I think knockout football is about fine margins and when you have good spells against fine sides you need to take your chances. Tonight we weren’t quite there but we will learn from that. We left everything out there.   Gareth Southgate, England coach

1 Croatia are the first side to avoid defeat after trailing in three knockout matches at a single World Cup. As a result of their successive displays of resilience and determination, they become the 13th different nation to reach their first World Cup final


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