|EUROSPORT: What an incredible achievement! Croatia are into their first ever World Cup final as a nation. England just couldn't see the game out. They had chances in the first half, Kane in particular missed a sitter, but you have to admire the way Croatia wrestled back control over the course of the match. "€œFor Croatian football and for Croatia as a country, this is history being written," Coach Zlatko Dalic said. On the photo Dejan Lovren, one of the pillars of Croatian defense. The team is filled with stars from top to bottom, and the teamwork and determination has set this team apart from the rest. Meanwhile, England will face Belgium on Saturday in the third-place match.|
England vs. Croatia final score, recap: Cinderella run continues, Croatia reaches first World Cup final
The victory is historic for Croatia, the second smallest nation to make the World Cup final after Uruguay, but it's no fluke. The team is filled with stars from top to bottom, and the teamwork and determination has set this team apart from the rest. Meanwhile, England will face Belgium on Saturday in the third-place match.
For Croatia, it's on the brink of arguably the most shocking World Cup title run in modern history.
Thomas Rongen, CBS SPORTS Soccer Analyst
The Greatest World Cup Fairy Tale of All Time
Croatia's unlikely march through the tournament is like the story of a nation that managed to barely survive.
And there was every reason to believe that, after two consecutive games that extended to penalty kicks, Croatia was bereft of the energy that could fuel a comeback. Therefore, we need to bow down before CroatiaÃ¢€™s slightly ragged victory.
There are nearly four times more undocumented immigrants in the United States than the total population of Croatia. If metropolitan Philadelphia decided to secede and start its own nation, it would have a far bigger population pool to draw from than the Croats. The World Cup is historically a cartel €”owned by a small handful of populous industrial nations €”that Croatia stands on the brink of cracking.
Luka Modric, the Tolkienesque wizard at the core of the Croatian midfield, was himself a refugee. Serbian militia burned down his family's home, and murdered his grandfather and six of his relatives. His family was consigned to live in a hotel, where he played soccer in the parking lot. Or take Mario Mandzukic who scored today's winning goal. As a child, he fled to Germany to wait out the war.
There's no reason to ascribe today's victory to this experience. (Uruguay, another tiny country, manages to constantly succeed without a sense of historic mission or any need for national redemption.) But as a neutral, I find myself savoring Croatia's unlikely, tenuous march through the tournament how its success is like the story of a nation that managed to barely survive. Long before England managed to escape the curse of high expectations, these were a bunch of kids, fleeing grenades, without much reason to imagine their own success. That they have earned a place in the World Cup finals, despite their size and recent past, has the makings of one of the greatest stories in the history of the game.
Croatia makes history, and adds to England's long wait, with victory in World Cup semifinals
The year Croatia achieved independence, England was 25 years removed from its lone appearance in a World Cup final. The pain and disappointment left by quadrennial shortcomings for the founders of modern soccer -€” as well as missteps in other major competitions - were still in the early stages.
Almost three decades later, on Wednesday night in the Russian capital, a young nation with 4.3 million citizens and 23 superb soccer players forged its mark and extended England's misery to 52 years since its 1966 championship.
With a 2-1 victory that required a 30-minute extra period, Croatia became the smallest country since Uruguay in 1950 to advance to the World Cup final. France awaits Sunday at Luzhniki Stadium.
"For Croatian football and for Croatia as a country, this is history being written," Coach Zlatko Dalic said. "We have our heart, we have our pride, we have our players."
And they had the perseverance to prevail in a third consecutive match in which they fell behind and couldn'€™t settle things in regulation time. The previous two, against Denmark and Russia, were decided on penalty kicks. Those three extra sessions have added up to a complete 90-minute game.
Croatia tops England in extra time to reach World Cup final
Croatia was one of the most impressive teams of the group stage before surviving two penalty shootouts to reach this point. Its technical ability and fierce resiliency allowed it to capitalize on England'€™s nervous lapses when victory was in sight.
Croatia vs. England score: Highlights from World Cup semifinals
Three straight matches going to extra time was not enough to slow down Croatia's campaign to become the second-smallest nation to make the World Cup final.
In fact, not even going down one goal within the first five minutes of the game was enough to discourage them.
Their legs had stopped working long before the end. Their muscles ached, their lungs heaved, their bodies creaked and groaned. Croatia's players had hit their limits and traveled beyond them, yet again; they had drained themselves of adrenaline; they had passed deep into the red, into the pain.
And still, even as their movements grew stiff and their tendons tight, when they were gasping for breath and it looked as though they could not possibly give any more, they kept going, kept chasing, kept running: past England, into the World Cup final, into history.
When the final whistle blew after two periods of extra time and their 2-1 victory was confirmed, several sank to the turf, floored not just by the sheer physical effort they had produced, but by the scale of their achievement.
All but one of the superpowers have gone: Brazil and Germany, Argentina and Spain are out. Croatia, this nation of four million people, remains. Only France stands between this team and what would, most likely, rank as the most remarkable World Cup victory in history.
It has reached the final the hard way, via the scenic route: extra-time and penalties against Denmark, extra-time and penalties against Russiaand now this: an exhausting, compelling 120 minutes against England, the sort of epic occasion that only the World Cup can produce.
Croatia deny England after telling themselves to get up yet again
They tell you it's about who wants it more. It's not. You don't get to a World Cup semifinal -- via a combined three penalty shootouts -- if you don't want it desperately, as much as the air you breathe and the affection you crave. Nobody could look the players from England or Croatia in the eye and judge who was hungrier, not after seeing them battle for 120 minutes at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Rather, it's about lies and deception. The lies you tell your body in an attempt to deceive it into thinking your hit points aren't down to zero. And the lies you tell yourself when you convince yourself that, yes, you can reach that stray ball, and no, you won't let that opponent pass. Most of all, it's about believing that you can keep going through heavy legs, searing pain and shortness of breath.
And do it all with clarity of mind. That last bit is crucial and, perhaps, the reason Croatia will be back here on Sunday to take on France in the World Cup final. England's collective mind got fuzzier as the game went on. Croatia's, somehow, seemed to grow clearer, scything through the pain, fatigue and inevitable errors.
Just ask England boss Gareth Southgate, who called them "hardened warriors" whose "decision making" made the difference.
As far as fooling yourself into thinking you are strong when, in fact, you can barely stand, ask his opposite number, Zlatko Dalic.
"I wanted to make substitutions earlier because I knew they were tired and hurt, but every time I tried, the players on the pitch told me they were fine, they felt fine," he said. "So how could I do it? How could I tell them that what they felt was not real?"
Croatia Stuns England in Extra Time to Advance to World Cup Final
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What an incredible achievement! Croatia are into their first ever World Cup final as a nation. England just couldn't see the game out. They had chances in the first half, Kane in particular missed a sitter, but you have to admire the way Croatia wrestled back control over the course of the match.
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Given the dour national mood, it's no wonder the World Cup resonates so powerfully with English fans this year.