Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Croatia in WCup final for first time

Published:Thursday | July 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Croatia's captain Luka Modric (left) Sime Vrsaljko (centre) and Ivan Rakitic celebrate after Mario Mandzukic scored the team's second goal during the semifinal match against England at the 2018 World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia yesterday.

MOSCOW (AP):

Croatia's legs seemed heavy, burdened by the accumulated toll of consecutive penalty-kick wins needed to get this far. England had gone ahead with a free kick just five minutes in. They dominated play and appeared headed to their first World Cup final since 1966.

Then the second half started, and it was as if a different Croatian team had replaced the lethargic one.

Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute, Mario Mandzukic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th, and Croatia, shocked England with a 2-1 victory yesterday that advanced a nation of just over four million to a World Cup final against France.

 

Mentally strong

 

"Mentally strong team," midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. "It's just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way."

When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white chequered jerseys. Croatia joined an exclusive club of 13 nations that advanced to a World Cup final, doing it in a tournament where powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain made early exits. France, who won their only title at home in 1998, will have an extra day of rest after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday.

Croatia, coming off 360 intense minutes at football's highest level, face their biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991.

"We started slowly, but we've shown our character, just as we did in the previous two knockout rounds when we were one-goal down," Perisic said.

England was not among the top 10 nations in ticket sales before the tournament, but the team's progress caused gallivanting supporters to flock to Moscow.

Promise seemed about to be fulfilled when Kieran Trippier curled in a free kick in the fifth minute for his first international goal, above leaping Dejan Lovren and Mandzukic and past the desperate dive of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Choruses of 'God Save the Queen' began in England's end.

Croatia tied the score after Rakitic switched the ball from left flank to right, where Vrsaljko crossed. Kyle Walker attempted a diving header to clear. Perisic jumped and from behind raised his left boot over Walker's head to poke the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from about eight yards for his fourth goal in the tournament. England had their moments to go back ahead, but Lingard failed to connect with a Harry Kane through ball in 78th, and Kane miss-hit a header off a free kick in stoppage time.