Since declaring itself independent on Oct. 8, 1991, Croatia and its 4-plus million people have posted a World Cup third-place finish when the country was not yet seven years old and now a World Cup final spot when the country is not yet 27 years old, with a captain whose childhood involved training with a grim soundtrack of shelling from a lingering war.
Only in late 1991 did the country start making its own plans for currency, passports and border crossings. War did not end at that very moment, either. And even in these improved 2010s, Croatian news reports in recent years have told of declining population.
Yet here’s Croatia, its collective stomach rugged enough to surpass three deficits in the knockout stages – by 1-0 to Denmark, Russia and England – and having played an entire match worth of extra time, on its way to play France on Sunday for the world’s most-prized prize.
“Incredibleeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!” tweeted Marin Cilic, the No. 5-ranked men’s tennis player, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, the 2017 Wimbledon runner-up and the 2018 Australian Open runner-up.
When Vice President Vladimir Seks announced Croatia’s independence , he did not say: “ We will kick more tail than you can believe at various international sports.”
That would have been trivial and gauche. The country, after all, has produced that noted former Croatian parliamentarian and mixed-martial arts giant Mirko Filopovic, known in the cage as Mirko Cro Cop.
Also: Iva Majoli, French Open women’s champion; Goran Ivanisevic, Wimbledon men’s champion and four-time finalist; Janica Kostelic, four-time Olympic skiing gold medalist, and her brother Ivica, four-time Olympic skiing silver medalist; Toni Kukoc, key contributor to three NBA championships in Chicago; two teams of Olympic men’s handball gold medalists; one team of Olympic men’s water polo gold medalists; and individual Olympic gold medals in weightlifting, shooting, sailing, rowing, discus and javelin.
Croatians have even mastered one of the great cliches of sports to overcome the British punditry.
After Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over England in the semifinals, Luka Modric, the team captain and Real Madrid standout, told British TV: “We proved everything differently than people were talking, especially English journalists, pundits on television. They underestimated Croatia tonight, and that was huge mistake, and all these words from them we take, we were reading, and, ‘OK, we will see today who will be tired.’ And like I say, they should be more humble and respect more opponents.
“And yeah, that’s it. We showed that we were not tired. We dominated the game physically, mentally in all aspects. We should kill the game even before extra time and now, this is an amazing achievement for us. It’s dream come true. ”
He said all this and has done all this – forged strong candidacy for the Golden Ball Award that goes to the World Cup’s best player – even while facing quite some stresses at home. In a matter that has placed a severe dent in his popularity, prosecutors have charged him with perjury in his testimony in the tax-fraud trial of a soccer executive who has fled to Bosnia.
Can prosecutors hold onto a charge after a World Cup win?
Croatia might prove also the testing ground for that.
Somehow, even before it beat Nigeria, destroyed Argentina and dislodged Iceland in group play, Croatia arrived here with a considerable World Cup history for a pup of a nation. Its third-place showing in 1998 became the best for a debutant since Portugal did likewise in 1966.
By that time, Modric neared age 13. This came well after his traumatic age 6, when his grandfather was murdered while guiding his cattle up the mountain, and the family went as refugees to a local hotel, where the locals would report the chronic sight of a lad and a ball.
Not so far removed from war by 1998, Croatia plucked Germany from that bracket with a 3-0 stunner in the quarterfinals, and went on to lose 2-1 to eventual champion and host France in the semifinals.
In that match, Croatia’s Davor Suker scored his sixth goal of the World Cup, landing him the Golden Boot for highest scorer. Now Croatia might have enough World Cup history to derive a Golden Boot and a Golden Ball from its 4-plus million. Somehow, it has arranged an even loftier meeting with France. Tack 2018 to 1998 and to all else, and the Croatian heart does seem a mighty organ.
Source : https://pilotonline.com/sports/article_f3008488-da78-50c8-87bd-9f92f24c9e7b.html782