Croatia to forget fatigue as history beckons in World Cup final

Published 12.07.2018 23:27
Updated 12.07.2018 23:28
Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the semifinal match against England on July 11.
Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the semifinal match against England on July 11.

Having come through extra time in three matches, Croatia has played a full 90 minutes more at the World Cup than France. But, all that will be forgotten when the small Balkan nation takes on Les Bleus for the title Sunday

World Cup comeback kings Croatia have played the equivalent of one game more than France but will look to forget all fatigue when it aims for the biggest prize in football on Sunday in the title match.

"Croatia is burning and we are not burnt out. We have strength left," goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. "We are the fiery ones, not normal. We have made history."

Captain and Golden Ball candidate Luka Modric, a three-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, said, "You play a final to win it."

Ivan Rakitic, who has also won Europe's biggest club event with Barcelona, stressed, "You find the energy when you play a final."

The southern Europeans have shown incredible resilience in the knock-out stages. After winning the group with a maximum nine points, they have come from behind to beat Denmark and Russia on penalties before ousting England in extra time.

Croatia's total of 90 minutes of extra time in the three last games has effectively made them play one game more than France, who won all their games in regulation. Croatia also has one day less rest.

No other team has managed to come from behind to progress in three consecutive knock-out games since the round of 16 was introduced in 1986 and coach Zlatko Dalic and the players will make one final effort on Sunday at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

Going one step further than the class of 1998, who came third, is already a matter of immense national pride for Croatia, who is the second-smallest nation after Uruguay ever to reach the final.

Just as the team, the whole country was in frenzy, with the 24sata tabloid saying, "Madness on the streets – the whole of Croatia is glowing."

Dalic sported a team shirt with the number 18 of forward Ante Rebic at the post-match news conference. It's hard to imagine French coach Didier Deschamps ever doing something similar.

Deschamps has already won the World Cup as a player, in 1998 after France beat Croatia 2-1 in the semifinal, with the Croatians squandering a lead in that match in the Stade de France.

Dalic said they won't be on a revenge mission Sunday but that "maybe the dear God gives us a chance to settle a score."

"What we are doing right now and achieving for the country and the region is fantastic," Dalic said, heaping praise on his players for their never-ending fighting spirit.

"What our players did, the strength, the stamina, the energy levels: I wanted to make substitutions but nobody wanted to be subbed. Some players played with minor injuries, two with half a leg. Nobody wanted to say, 'I am not ready,'" he said.

Modric, Rakitic, Wednesday's scorers Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic and all the others will now recuperate before the final effort against Les Bleus, who have the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba.

"We want to play our best match of the tournament," Dalic said.

Perisic said: "We have watched almost all France games. They did enough to progress [from the group] and have then upped their game and were very strong [in the semi-final] against Belgium. They can also defend very well.

"I can't single out anyone. They have an excellent coach and excellent players."

But, despite all the respect and fatigue, the confidence in the Croatian camp is sky-high as history beckons.

"Yes, I think we can do it," defender Sime Vrsaljko insisted. "We are going to win this World Cup."

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