SportsPulse: Fox Sports contributor Grant Wahl previews the World Cup final between France and Croatia, and why all the pressure is on Croatia’s golden generation to pull off the historic upset.
USA TODAY Sports
MOSCOW — Croatia beat England and reached the World Cup final by being brash, bold and unapologetic — and the reaction of its players took the exact same approach.
With a couple of exceptions, there was little room for humility from head coach Zlatko Dalic’s side as Croatia celebrated sealing a spot in soccer’s biggest game for the first time in its history.
Vedran Corluka, who spent five years in the English Premier League with Manchester City and Tottenham, had a snarky parting message for the England team.
“Football’s not coming home,” Corluka said as he walked through the media interview zone at Luzhniki Stadium, just over an hour after the final whistle of the 2-1 win.
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His jibe was a reference to the phrase “Football’s Coming Home,” borrowed from the 1996 hit song “Three Lions” and used constantly in England over the past week in hopeful expectation of a first triumph since 1966.
Croatia’s star midfielder Luka Modric, whose impact on the semifinal was crucial, said his team had been irked by what it believed was over-confidence from England.
“They underestimated Croatia and that was a huge mistake,” Modric said. “All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying: ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.’ They should be more humble and respect their opponents more.”
England’s Kieran Trippier scored an early free-kick, but Croatia bounced back strongly to send the game into extra time and seal it with a Mario Mandzukic strike.
“The difference was mental,” defender Dejan Lovren added.
Under head coach Gareth Southgate, the young and inexperienced England side has earned rave reviews. Except, perhaps, from Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko.
“The all-round perception was that this is a new-look England who have changed their ways of punting long balls up field, but when we pressed them it turned out that they haven’t,” Vrsaljko said.
When Croatia’s bench cleared to sprint onto the field at the end of extra-time, two substitutes appeared to accidentally trample on England midfielder Jesse Lingard as he sat on the turf, then ran off laughing.
However, it is hard to begrudge Croatia for its time in the spotlight. Modric and Ivan Rakitic are two of the best midfielders in the world and have steered Croatia to some of the finest performances of the tournament, not least its 3-0 thumping of Argentina in the group stage.
The country’s deepest previous World Cup run came in 1998 when it lost to France in the semifinal. On Sunday, it will have the chance to win it all, against the same opponent.