Croatia’s run in the 2018 World Cup has been memorable for all the right, and some wrong reasons. Yet this has not stopped them from playing the best football they can, and showing resilience and fortitude where others have not.
It was not long after their first game against Nigeria in the group stages, that the Croatian team made headlines for the behaviour of AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic, who refused to come on during the game.
He was swiftly sent home alongside injured players and the incident was quickly forgotten when the team went on to beat Argentina 3-0 to go top of Group D ahead of the knockout stages.
Croatian coach, Zlatko Dalic, can be happy with the way his players have come back from that incident, as well as their attitude towards the coming games. Dalic’s squad rotation as well as tactics are also worth mentioning, as Croatia had managed to field their entire squad before the onset of the knockout stages.
Their Round of 16 clash against Denmark has probably been their weakest point this campaign, as they conceded first and after they had equalized, they were unable to find a winner. But, their hunger to stay in the competition saw them through penalties and into a quarterfinal clash with hosts Russia.
Once again, the Croatians conceded first, but looked dominant and were chasing the win. They were unlucky to concede again in extra time, but Subasic was on hand once again to save the team in penalties.
The semifinals meant a showdown with the then favourites England was to come. The last time that England had been in a semifinal, Croatia had not even established itself as a sovereign country, yet it was they, the underdogs who came out triumphant.
The team gave it their all, almost to the verge of physical exhaustion for a chance to be in the final. Injuries became a genuine concern when all substitutions had been made and players were still going to ground injured, yet somehow an injured Mario Mandzukic managed to come through for Croatia with a late goal that sealed their ticket into the final.
So far Croatia have always been seen as the underdogs, as they will again on Sunday, yet it has been their organisation, skill in the midfield and will to win that has seen them through. France will be in for a shock if they are assuming that Croatia will be a walkover, and a Croatian upset doesn’t seem to far-fetched to imagine at this point.