By Andrew Warshaw
July 12 – As an entire nation digests the disappointment of football not coming home after all, Croatia’s star player insists his side were underestimated and deserved to reach the World Cup final at England’s expense.
Luka Modric says his country had been motivated by so-called experts predicting Croatia would be tired after their previous two matches, both of which went to penalty shootouts after extra time.
“We showed again we were not tired,” said Modric in the euphoria of Croatia reaching their first ever World Cup final. “We dominated the game physically, mentally, in all aspects. English journalists, pundits from television, they underestimated Croatia and that was a huge mistake. They should be more humble and respect more opponents.
“All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying, ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired’.”
Croatia, whose previous best World Cup performance was a third-place finish in 1998, face France on Sunday. “It is the biggest success in Croatian history in sport and we have to be proud,” added Modric.
To win the World Cup you invariably need an element of luck along the way. Croatia have certainly had that with their two shootout victories and Modric’s assessment dug the knife into England whose devastated players slumped to the ground after the extra time defeat in Moscow.
But whilst there is no doubt England’s young squad exceeded expectations and rekindled a connection with the fans under manager Gareth Southgate, the harsh truth is that England missed a big opportunity to reach the final for the first time since winning the trophy in 1966.
England might have won many admirers with their approach on and off the field and produced some unexpected heroes but as hope and optimism gave way to pain and hurt, the reality is that they may never have a better chance.
The fact that they missed out after finding themselves in the easier half of the knockout draw, avoiding all the big guns left in the competition, made the sense of despair among players, coaching staff and fans all the more intense. Who knows when the squad, for all their undoubted promise and togetherness, may again have such a mouth-watering path – on paper at least – to the final?
Croatia may have had far more experience but just remember how they reached the finals in the first place, finishing second in their group – behind Iceland.
‘Football’s Coming Home’ went the chant the length and breadth of England as an entire nation got behind Southgate’s team. But the denounement had a familiar ring about it. After half a century, England are still waiting.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org