Croatia Court Drops Modric Perjury Charges

Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric speaks during a press conference at the Maksimir football stadium in Zagreb on November 14, 2018 on the eve of the UEFA Nations League match against Spain.
AFP

 

A Zagreb court has dropped charges that Croatia football captain and Real Madrid star Luka Modric gave false testimony in a corruption trial, a court spokesman said on Monday.

“There is not enough evidence that he (Modric) committed the criminal offence of perjury,” Kresimir Devcic told AFP.

The ruling, which closes the case, comes as Modric is hoping to be awarded the 2018 Ballon d’Or in Paris on Monday for taking his team to the 2018 World Cup finals in Moscow.

Croatia lost to France in the final but the small nation was overjoyed by its historic run, which temporarily quieted anguish over corruption and other problems plaguing the sport.

In March, Croatian prosecutors had charged Modric, 33, with committing perjury during evidence he gave in the multi-million-euro corruption trial of former Dinamo Zagreb boss Zdravko Mamic.

Modric testified in June last year over the details of his 2008 transfer from Dinamo to Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur.

He went on to join Real Madrid in 2012.

Mamic and three other defendants were found guilty of charges of abuse of power and corruption that cost Dinamo, the current Croatian champions, more than 15 million euros ($17.3 million), and the state 1.5 million euros.

Mamic, who is currently in hiding in neighbouring Bosnia, was sentenced in June to six and a half years in jail.

Prosecutors allege cash was embezzled through fictitious deals related to player transfers.

AFP

England Beat Croatia To Reach Nations League Final Four

England’s striker Harry Kane (C) celebrates with teammates after he scores their second goal during the international UEFA Nations League football match between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London on November 18, 2018.
Ben STANSALL / AFP

 

Harry Kane fired England into the Nations League semi-finals as Gareth Southgate’s side scored twice in the last 12 minutes to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over Croatia on Sunday.

England were on the brink of relegation to the second tier of the competition after Andrej Kramaric gave Croatia the lead against the run of play in the second half at Wembley.

But Southgate’s vibrant young side pulled off a stirring escape act in the closing stages to gain a measure of revenge for their World Cup semi-final defeat against Croatia earlier this year.

Jesse Lingard came off the bench to poach England’s equaliser and captain Kane was on hand to turn in the winner with five minutes left.

England’s fightback took them to the top of Group A4, above Spain and relegated Croatia, and they can look forward to playing in the last four in June next year.

It was a cathartic moment for England, who have made a habit of suffering painful defeats against Croatia, with this year’s World Cup woe following the 2007 loss that cost them a place at Euro 2008.

More importantly, the performance provided further tangible proof that Southgate is building a team capable of challenging for the major prizes after years of under-achievement.

England’s appearance in the semi-finals of the Nations League, which are set to be held in Portugal next June, offers another chance to reach their first major final since 1966.

Following the 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Seville last month, this tournament has been a serious statement of intent from Southgate’s team and they will go into 2019 with great expectations.

Dominant England

From start to finish, England were the dominant force, although they were fortunate to escape when Ante Rebic shot over after Jordan Pickford fumbled Fabian Delph’s backpass.

Kane slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Raheem Sterling and the Manchester City winger’s blistering pace sent him clear of the Croatia defence.

With only Lovre Kalinic to beat, Sterling let Croatia off the hook as he directed a hesitant shot straight at the keeper.

England kept probing intelligently, with the speed of Sterling and Marcus Rashford providing their main threat.

Delph’s pass sparked a frantic sequence, forcing Kalinic to dash out of his area to head away from Sterling.

When Kalinic’s clearance fell to Kane, the England captain’s effort was headed off the line by Tin Jedvaj.

The rebound fell to Kane, but Kalinic, by now back in his goal, used his legs to foil the Tottenham striker with a last-ditch save.

It was more of the same at the start of the second half, but once again England couldn’t find the killer touch.

That profligacy looked as though it would prove fatal when Croatia snatched the lead after 56 minutes.

Kramaric was allowed time and space to turn in the area and the Hoffenheim forward took full advantage, clipping a shot that deflected off Eric Dier and looped over Pickford’s despairing dive.

Southgate responded by sending on Lingard and the change reaped an instant reward as England equalised in the 78th minute.

Joe Gomez’s long throw was flicked on by John Stones and Kane prodded past Kalinic, leaving Lingard with the simple task of tapping in from virtually on the goal-line.

England’s deserved winner arrived in the 85th minute.

Ben Chilwell curled over a teasing low free-kick and Kane timed his run to perfection, guiding his shot past Kalinic from close-range.

Kane’s first goal in eight games for England sparked a wild celebration from Southgate, who leapt into the air as he punched the air on the touchline.

Kane had joked with his fiancee this week that he would cry if England ever win a trophy, but he couldn’t guarantee he would weep when they get married.

Thanks to their thrilling comeback, England could bring a tear to Kane’s eyes in the Finals next year.

Croatia Lose Rakitic For England Clash

Barcelona’s Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic runs during the Spanish League “Clasico”. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic has returned to Barcelona with a hamstring strain and will miss the Nations League match against England on Sunday, the club said.

Rakitic suffered the injury in the World Cup finalists’ 3-2 win against Spain on Thursday.

Barcelona said he had suffered “a strained hamstring in his right leg”.

The club gave no timescale for his recovery but Spanish press reports said he could be out for up to three weeks which could mean he misses the Liga clash with Atletico Madrid on November 24 and a Champions League match against PSV Eindhoven four days later.

A win for Croatia over the side they beat to reach the World Cup final would take Zlatko Dalic’s men to the semi-finals of the Nations League and send England down to League B.

If England win, they will win the group and progress to the finals of the new competition — which offers the chance of qualification for Euro 2020 — and relegate Croatia.

A draw would hand Spain first place in the group. If its goalless, Croatia would be relegated but a score draw would leave England in last place.

AFP

Croatia World Cup Keeper Subasic Retires

Croatia’s goalkeeper Danijel Subasic fails to save the ball for the opening goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic announced his international retirement on Wednesday one month after starring in the World Cup final. 

“The time has come after 10 years on the national team to say goodbye my favourite jersey,” Subasic wrote in a letter published by the Croatian Football Federation (HNS), a day after striker Mario Mandzukic retired.

“I made my decision long before the World Cup because my dream was to end my career with the national team at a World Cup,” Subasic added.

“The one in Russia was the most emotional moment of my career… thank you all,” added the Monaco goalkeeper.

The native of Zadar made his debut for the “Vatreni” (Fiery Ones) in 2009.

At the World Cup in Russia, he was the hero in the last 16 against Denmark, making three penalty saves in a nail-biting shootout.

In the quarter-finals, he stopped two goalbound shots to help eliminate hosts Russia, before seeing off England and then falling to France in the final.

His international retirement comes after Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic and defender Vedran Corluka also announced their international retirements.

AFP

Dalic To Stay With Croatia, After Taking Team To World Cup Final

Croatian Players Will Sacrifice World Cup Final Places If Unfit - Dalic
Croatia’s coach Zlatko Dalic (L) and Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric hold a press conference at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 14, 2018 on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Zlatko Dalic, who led Croatia to the World Cup final last month, signalled on Thursday that he would stay on as coach, smoothing away doubts that emerged after his return from Russia.

Dalic had complained that he lacked the full support of the Croatia’s Football Federation (HNS), saying he had to “think carefully” about his future.

But a meeting with HNS president Davor Suker appeared to clear the air.

“I consider that we solved all of the issues and I’m looking forward to new challenges,” Dalic was quoted as saying in an HNS statement on Thursday after the meeting.

Suker added: “I am glad that we talked openly about things that could be better in the future and that we will go together toward new victories.”

A formal signing of Dalic’s contract is expected at the next meeting of HNS executive committee, the statement said.

Croatian press celebrated the announcement, with Sportske Novosti, a web portal, proclaiming:  “The most important deal of Croatian football has been reached, Dalic to stay as coach.”

Croatia’s captain Luka Modric, the star midfielder who helped power the team to its first ever appearance in a World Cup final, had earlier urged Dalic to stay on to lead the team to Euro 2020.

Although Croatia lost 4-2 to France in the World Cup final, their progress was celebrated with euphoria in a small country fiercely proud of its football team.

Hundreds of thousands of people swarmed Zagreb’s streets to welcome the players home on July 16.

Dalic took over in October, three matches before the end of qualifications for the World Cup 2018. He had only seven matches with the team before the start of the tournament in Russia.

In recent days Dalic’s name had appeared among possible successors of Shin Tae-yong to lead the South Korean side.

AFP

Israeli President Urges Croatia To ‘Deal With Past’

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) a Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic pay a tribute at the memorial in the shape of a flower for the victims killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp which was dismantled 73 years ago in Jasenovac, on July 25, 2018. STRINGER / AFP

 

Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday urged Croatia to “deal with its past” while paying respect to the victims of the Balkan country’s most brutal World War II death camp.

Rivlin was visiting a memorial at the site of the Jasenovac camp, known as “Croatia’s Auschwitz”, where the country’s pro-Nazi Ustasha regime brutally murdered tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Romas and anti-fascists.

Croatia’s current government has come under criticism in recent years for failing to tackle lingering intolerance and celebrations of Ustasha slogans and ideology.

“There are some who prefer to repress their past and see it as a ‘black hole’ which requires no study or soul searching,” Rivlin said in Hebrew in front of the memorial site, a towering concrete flower that looms over lush farmland.

“Croatia’s ability to deal with the past and not to ignore it is a moral obligation which is a fundamental part of any just society,” he said, according to an official translation.

It “will continue to be an important element of the friendship between Croatia and Israel,” the Israeli leader added.

Rivlin, who arrived in Zagreb on Tuesday for a two-day visit, was accompanied by his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

The two presidents visited the camp’s museum and laid wreaths for the victims at the monument. Rivlin also recited a traditional Jewish prayer.

Grabar-Kitarovic also voiced deep sympathy for victims of the Ustasha regime.

“No political goal or regime can justify crimes committed in its name,” she said, pledging to continue to take care of the “collective memory of the crimes committed here.”

The number of people killed at Jasenovac, which lies 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Zagreb, remains disputed.

It varies from tens of thousands to 700,000, according to Serbian figures.

The site remains a place of controversy.

The country’s ethnic Serb and Jewish minorities have snubbed the official commemoration at the Jasenovac memorial for the past three years, accusing authorities of tolerating strains of pro-Nazi ideology in society.

They were particularly incensed by the placing of a plaque with an Ustasha slogan near the memorial in November 2016.

The plaque, laid by former paramilitaries, was removed from the camp’s immediate vicinity nearly a year later — only to be displayed at another location around 10 kilometres (six miles) away.

Relations between Croatia and Israel took a dip during the 1990s under president Franjo Tudjman, who led the country’s breakaway from Yugoslavia.

Israel accused him of failing to make a strong denunciation of the Ustasha regime, who murdered an estimated 75 percent of the country’s 40,000 Jews.

The ties between the two countries have improved since Tudjman’s death in 2000.

AFP

PHOTOS: France Defeat Croatia To Win World Cup

France’s players hold their World Cup trophy as they celebrate their win during the trophy ceremony at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

France won their second World Cup 20 years after their maiden triumph on Sunday, seeing off a dogged and desperate Croatia side who refused to lie down in one of the most electrifying finals in recent years.

The breathless 4-2 victory under stormy skies at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium means Didier Deshchamps’ side — balancing youthful vitality and tournament nous — have buried the pain of their defeat in the Euro 2016 final on home soil.

READ ALSOFrance Beat Croatia To Win Second World Cup After 20 Years

For the small nation of Croatia, the loss spells bitter pain but fans at home will celebrate the best run in the nation’s history, which featured a stunning win against Argentina and a semi-final victory against England.

Highlights of the match, as well as the celebrations, are captured in the photos below;

Croatia’s Luka Modric Wins World Cup Golden Ball

Croatia's Modric Wins World Cup Golden Ball
Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric (L) poses with the Golden Ball, next to France’s forward Kylian Mbappe, who in turn carries the Best Young Player Award after the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Croatia captain Luka Modric won the Golden Ball award for the World Cup’s best player despite being on the losing side to France in a thrilling final in Moscow on Sunday.

Modric was named man-of-the-match three times in Croatia’s seven games in Russia, but even the Real Madrid midfielder was powerless to stop France’s firepower and the rise of 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe.

READ ALSOFrance Beat Croatia To Win Second World Cup After 20 Years

The Paris Saint-Germain forward won the young player of the tournament award after scoring his fourth goal of the competition in the final, which France won 4-2.

Belgium captain Eden Hazard finished second in the running for the Golden Ball, with France’s Antoine Griezmann, who also scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the final, coming third.

Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois won the Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper.

Despite Griezmann and Mbappe getting on the scoresheet, England’s Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot for his six goals.

AFP

Updated: France Beat Croatia To Win Second World Cup After 20 Years

Updated: France Beat Croatia To Win Second World Cup After 20 Years
France’s team players pose with the trophy as they celebrate during the trophy ceremony after winning the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

France won their second World Cup 20 years after their maiden triumph on Sunday, seeing off a dogged and desperate Croatia side who refused to lie down in one of the most electrifying finals in recent years.

The breathless 4-2 victory under stormy skies at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium means Didier Deshchamps’ side — balancing youthful vitality and tournament nous — have buried the pain of their defeat in the Euro 2016 final on home soil.

For the small nation of Croatia, the loss spells bitter pain but fans at home will celebrate the best run in the nation’s history, which featured a stunning win against Argentina and a semi-final victory against England.

Earlier, Croatia’s fans, massed behind Danijel Subasic’s goal, unveiled an enormous flag during their national anthem and their side roared out of the blocks, pinning France back in their own half.

Fans watch the closing ceremony of the Russia 2018 World Cup ahead of the final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. François-Xavier MARIT / AFP

 

It was the French who scored first, courtesy of an own goal in the 18th minute by Mario Mandzukic following an Antoine Griezmann free-kick but they were pegged back by a lovely Ivan Perisic strike 10 minutes later.

Griezmann restored France’s lead from the penalty spot after the referee awarded a controversial spot-kick with the help of VAR (video assistant referee) for a hand ball.

As thunder rolled around the stadium, Griezmann lined up the penalty, holding the ball under his arm. Crotia goalkeeper Subasic did his best to put the French striker off but he held his nerve to lash the spot-kick into the net.

Croatia were first out after half-time and again were into their stride quickly, with the brilliant Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield as roars of “Croatia” echoed round the stadium.

But Manchester United’s Paul Pogba extended France’s lead within a quarter of an hour, stroking the ball home — sparking scenes of joy behind the goal from French fans, who knew their country had one hand on the trophy.

France’s forward Kylian Mbappe (hidden) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Kylian Mbappe appeared to make sure just just minutes later. But Croatia were given renewed hope when Mandzukic made the most of a mistake by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Croatia’s forward Mario Mandzukic and France’s defender Benjamin Pavard vie for the ball during the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

– France victorious –

France, strongly fancied to win the final, started their tournament in France slowly, beating Australia and Peru by the odd goal before a goalless stalemate with Denmark saw them top the group.

But they moved up through the gears in the knockout stages, seeing off Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a seven-goal thriller before cruising to a 2-0 win against Uruguay and seeing off Belgium 1-0 in the semi-final.

For Croatia, the match in Moscow was perhaps one too far after they were taken to extra-time for three consecutive games.

France’s coach Didier Deschamps is tossed by players at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Deschamps, who captained France when they lifted the World Cup in 1998, has become just the third man to win the trophy as both a player and a manager after Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo.

Croatia have brought joy to their Balkan nation of just four million people by defying the odds to progress to the final while reigning champions Germany, then Argentina and Brazil all fell by the wayside in Russia.

Football fever has slowly built over the past four weeks as France took its young national team to heart, with ecstatic scenes on the Champs-Elysees avenue after their semi-final victory.

Giant screens were erected in scores of fan zones across the country under exceptionally tight security, with the biggest gathering of all expected in Paris, where 90,000 will converge on a fanzone next to the Eiffel Tower.

Red-and-white chequerboard patterns were everywhere in Croatia, on cars, in shop windows, trams, buses as well as on jerseys worn by waiters, shop workers or TV presenters.

France’s players hold their World Cup trophy as they celebrate their win during the trophy ceremony at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

AFP

LIVE: France Battle Croatia For World Cup Glory

LIVE: France Battle Croatia For World Cup Glory
France’s defender Lucas Hernandez (R) vies for the ball with Croatia’s forward Ante Rebic during their Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

Croatia face France on Sunday in an attempt to win their first World Cup while Didier Deschamps’ side are aiming to land their second title two decades on from their triumph on home soil.

France are clear favourites to triumph in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and will be spurred on by the bitter disappointment of losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal in Paris.

It is a final few people anticipated when football’s global showpiece kicked off four weeks ago.


July 15, 2018



Thank you for staying with us since June 14.

READ ALSO: France Beat Croatia To Win Second World Cup After 20 Years

90+6′ The referee blows the final whistle and France are the world champions.

81′ Dejan Lovren crosses the ball into a danger area of France but Samuel Umtiti relieves the pressure with a clearance.

Olivier Giroud and Ivan Strinic are leaving the field to be replaced by Nabil Fekir and Marko Pjaca in a tactical substitution.

72′ Mario Mandzukic commits a foul by elbowing Samuel Umtiti. The referee pauses the game because there is a player lying on the pitch.

Blaise Matuidi leaves the field to be replaced by Corentin Tolisso in a tactical substitution.

Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana gestures as he listens to indications from the Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) during the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

69′ G O O O A A A L

Olivier Giroud passes the ball in the box but it’s intercepted by an opponent player. Hugo Lloris could cost his team a goal after a defensive blunder.

Mario Mandzukic delivers it into France’s net to increase Croatia’s hopes.

France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris fails to save Croatia’s forward Ivan Perisic’s equalizer during the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

65′ G O O O A A A L

A shot by Ante Rebic is blocked but Kylian Mbappe beats the Croatian keeper from outside the box!

It’s France 4-1 Croatia with 40% – 60% ball possession respectively.


59′ G O O O A A A L

Antoine Griezmann passes the ball to a teammate and a shot by Paul Pogba is blocked.

Pogba finally scores from outside the box to extend France’s lead. Ball possession is France 39% – 61% Croatia.


48′ Luka Modric swings in the corner from the right while Dejan Lovren from Croatia heads the ball to a teammate.

Ante Rebic from Croatia had a bad first touch and fails to benefit from the cross.

46′ Second half is ongoing.


45+4′ It’s over! The referee blows for half time. Ball possession is France 40% – 60% Croatia.

45+3′ Croatia’s Sime Vrsaljko crosses the ball but his teammate arrives a little late and can’t benefit from it. Ivan Strinic from Croatia goes a bit too far and pulls down Kylian Mbappe.


38′ G O O O A A A L

Antoine Griezmann from France puts it away from the penalty spot! Scoreline is now France 2-1 Croatia with ball possession of 40% and 60% respectively.

34′ The referee has stopped the game and is going to watch a video review for a situation. After reviewing the situation the referee decides to award a penalty for France.


29′ G O O O O A A A L

Domagoj Vida of Croatia passes the ball to Luka Modric who crosses the ball into the box from the free kick.

Sime Vrsaljko from Croatia heads the ball to Ivan Perisic who makes a brilliant delivery to level the scoreline for Croatia

27′ The referee signals a free kick as N’Golo Kante from France trips Ivan Perisic as he sees no other way than stopping the counter and receives a yellow card.


18′ GOOOOAAAAALLLLLLLL

Antoine Griezmann crosses the ball into the box from the free kick but Mario Mandzukic sends the ball into his own net!

Croatia’s forward Mario Mandzukic and France’s defender Benjamin Pavard vie for the ball during the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

17′ Kylian Mbappe from France passes the ball in the box, but it’s intercepted by an opponent player.

The referee signals a free kick as Marcelo Brozovic from Croatia trips Antoine Griezmann.

8′ Ivan Strinic from Croatia directs a ball squarely in the box, but it’s intercepted by a French player.

Croatia Captain Luka Modric from swings in the corner from the left while Olivier Giroud relieves the pressure on France with a clearance.

3′ Ivan Perisic takes the ball forward to make something happen for Croatia but Samuel Umtiti from France clears the danger with a good tackle.

1′ Referee blows the kick-off whistle, the match is underway.


 

France and Croatia go into the World Cup final with the same starting line-ups as in their semi-final wins over Belgium and England respectively.

Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann support Olivier Giroud in the attack in France’s 4-2-3-1 formation, while Ivan Perisic and Ivan Strinic, who had been pre-match injury doubts, have been passed fit for Croatia.

Perisic was the star of Croatia’s 2-1 extra-time victory over England at the same Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, scoring his country’s equaliser and then setting up the winner for Mario Mandzukic.

On the other hand, France beat Belgium 1-0 in the semi-final with a Samuel Umtiti goal in the second half.


Starting line-ups for the World Cup final between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday (1500 GMT kick-off):

France (4-3-3)

Hugo Lloris (capt); Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez; Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante; Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi; Olivier Giroud

Coach: Didier Deschamps (FRA)

Croatia (4-3-3)

Danijel Subasic; Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic; Luka Modric (capt), Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Rakitic; Ante Rebic, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic

Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)

Referee: Nestor Pitana (ARG)



 

Croatia have brought joy to their Balkan nation of just four million people by defying the odds to progress to the final while reigning champions Germany, then Argentina and Brazil all fell by the wayside in Russia.

Fans watch the closing ceremony of the Russia 2018 World Cup ahead of the final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. François-Xavier MARIT / AFP

 

They have been inspired by mercurial midfielder Luka Modric while coach Zlatko Dalic, who only took over last year with the squad in chaos, has coaxed remarkable performances from his team.


Deschamps, who captained France when they lifted the World Cup in 1998, would become only the third man to win the trophy as both a player and a manager after Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo.

His France side, spearheaded by 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe and the more seasoned Antoine Griezmann, are the favourites.

Paul Pogba has finally become a leader in midfield for France and N’Golo Kante has excelled in doing the tireless work that allows his teammates to shine, while Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane are the nuclei of a solid defence.

Les Bleus laboured through their group, beating Australia and Peru by the odd goal and drawing with Denmark in the only goalless game of the tournament.

Then they hit form, sweeping aside Argentina in a match which announced to the world that Mbappe is set to be an international superstar as he scored twice and outshone Lionel Messi.

But apart from that 4-3 win, France have played like a Deschamps side, with the emphasis on defence.

Croatia Set For ‘Historic’ World Cup Final

Croatia’s supporters celebrate after winning the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England, at the main square in Zagreb on July 11, 2018. Denis Lovrovic / AFP

 

Excitement reached fever-pitch levels in Croatia as the small nation counted down to its first-ever World Cup final against France on Sunday.

France, the 1998 winners, are firm favourites to win the match at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium but Croatia, led by Luka Modric on the pitch, have the players to spring a shock.

“Sons of Croatia, we are waiting for you! Come home so we can celebrate together!” read the front page of the Jutarnji List newspaper.

“There are special days in life that will be remembered forever. Today is such a day. A day when Croatia enters world sports history, and immortality.”

With a population of just over four million people, Croatia would be the smallest World Cup winners since Uruguay in 1950 if they triumph.

Croatian red-and-white chequerboard patterns are everywhere —  on car hoods, shop windows, trams, and on public monuments.

Waiters, street vendors and TV presenters are wearing Croatian jerseys while shops have changed their displays to show their support.

Tens of thousands are expected to watch the match at fan zones in the capital, including on the main Jelacic square.

Despite heavy rain early Sunday, supporters began gathering in squares and streets, sheltering under cafe hoardings.

“It’s a David-and-Goliath tie. We didn’t think twice about the drive, this a historic moment for the country,” said one fan who had driven from Switzerland.

Lorenzo Abbadi, 23, an Italian dressed in Croatian colours, said he had driven nine hours from Assisi in central Italy to support the Balkan country.

“Italy weren’t in the World Cup, we love football, so I thought I’d watch the final here,” he told AFP.

Croatian newspaper front pages blazed with fervour.

“Let’s show our teeth to the French!” said Sportske Novosti alongside a large photo of Mario Mandzukic, who scored the winner in Croatia’s 2-1 semi-final win over England.

“The present belongs to Luka Modric, the future will go to Kylian Mbappe,” said Jutarnji List, while Slobodna Dalmacija said “We are already champions whatever happens,” a view shared by many Croatians.

Church postponed 

A church in Slavonski Brod, the hometown of Mandzukic, postponed a mass to allow the congregation to watch the final.

Many fans want the team to take revenge for Croatia’s defeat by France in the 1998 semi-final.

“It’s clear that we have revenge to take on the French after 1998,” Filip Gudelj, owner of a Swiss construction company, told AFP in Zagreb.

But for Igor Stimac, a member of the 1998 “Vatreni” (the “Fiery Ones” in Croatian) the final is not about revenge.

“In my mind, there is only joy, pride, happiness. It is something magnificent, almost incredible,” Stimac, 50, told the Tportal website.

In a video posted in Facebook, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic thanked World Cup hosts Russia from a plane headed to Moscow.

“In the name of all Croatia fans, I thank Russia for a warm welcome. You were great hosts. Tonight cheer for Croatia!” she said in Russian, dressed in a chequerboard jersey in front of cheering fans.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic urged employers to allow their workers time off on Monday to attend a “magnificent welcome homecoming party” that more than 100,000 people are expected to attend.

If Croatia win, the government is considering declaring Monday a public holiday, while the president is scheduled to formally honour coach Zlatko Dalic and the players.

AFP

Croatia Optimistic It Can Make World Cup History

A woman arranges jerseys of Croatia’s national football team in downtown Zagreb on July 14, 2018, ahead of the 2018 Russia World Cup final football match between Croatia and France, the first final World Cup match ever in the history of Croatia. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

 

Croatia feverishly prepared Saturday for its first ever World Cup final as the small Balkan nation swells with pride at its team’s performance – and firmly believes they can win against France.

Red-and-white chequerboards are everywhere — on car hoods, in shop windows, trams, buses as well as on jerseys worn by waiters, shop workers or TV presenters.

Butchers arranged their meat in a red and white pattern while a Zagreb beauty salon told clients they would not be doing French manicures until Monday in a sign of support to the national team.

And in a Zagreb bar, waiters were “drawing” portraits of Croatian players on the froth of coffees.

“What was Brazil once, is Croatia now… Croatia are the world champions!” say the words of a popular song aired by radio and TV stations to boost moral.

“The squad’s success is an inspiration… it has brought optimism that has cast its spell over the whole society,” said Gordana Deranja, head of the Croatian employers’ association.

Newspapers were ecstatic, praising the team known in Croatian as “Vatreni” (the Fiery Ones) that beat England in the semi-finals to reach the final in a feat not seen for such a small nation since Uruguay reached football’s pinnacle in 1930 and 1950.

Croatia had surpassed the achievements of the team that finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Tens of thousands of Croatians are expected to watch the match which kicks off at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) on giant screens in squares and bars throughout the Adriatic country.

About 8,000 people were expected to watch in an ancient Roman amphitheatre in the northern port of Pula, organiser said.

‘Croatia writes history’

“Tomorrow Croatia writes history — the whole world is watching us!” said the front page of the Jutarnji List newspaper, alongside a black and white photo of coach Zlatko Dalic talking to the players.

An additional 1,230 tickets for the final in Moscow were sold out half an hour after being released overnight, state-run HRT television reported.

Tickets for 10 charter flights for Moscow for about 2,000 fans were snapped up.

Authorities have issued more than 4,300 passports since the quarter-finals.

In Zagreb, the passport office was working overtime to process applications from fans wanting to attend the match.

“Tomorrow there will be 4.5 million of us on the pitch!” read the front page of Novi List quoting Ivan Rakitic, who struck the decisive penalties in the shootouts against Denmark and Russia to reach the semi-finals.

Optimism reigned everywhere.

“After watching the game with England I now genuinely believe that these boys can make it till the end,” Domagoj Stanic, a 43-year-old administrator, told AFP in downtown Zagreb.

He was wearing a jersey with a number 10 on the back, emulating captain Luka Modric.

“Our boys are the best, we believe in our victory! We are not as pretentious as the others,” said Marija, a women in her sixties selling flowers in Zagreb’s main square where the fan zone is located.

Regardless of the result, the team will be given a hero’s welcome in Zagreb Monday, with more than hundred thousand people expected.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic urged employers to allow their workers leave their jobs earlier Monday to attend what he called a “magnificent welcome party”.

And if Croatia win the government is considering declaring Monday a day off, while President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will formally honour Dalic and the players.

AFP