Croatia, a population of 4.2 million people, has now placed themselves into their first World Cup Final. How can such a tiny country produce such polished gems like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic; arguably the two best midfielders throughout this 2018 edition of the World Cup. The Croatians must have something in the water-- whatever it is, the coaching staff must make sure they drink plenty of it before Sunday! As captain and the clear leader of the team, Luka Modric has the chance to cement his name as one of the greatest players of all time with a World Cup winning performance and a strong opportunity to win a deserved Ballon d’Or.
Gareth Southgate deserves immense credit for the work he has done with the English national team, especially psychologically. The team have overcome mental barriers that has held them back for generations. The momentum coming into this match almost seemed unstoppable. When Kieran Trippier curled his right footed free kick into the top corner in the fourth minute of the game, it seemed destined that England would catapult themselves to a second final and the first since 1966. The first half was all England. They did not rest on their laurels after scoring and continuously looked to put the Croatia backline under pressure with long balls over the top to Sterling and the tireless Lingard. Croatia, still looking to get their legs under them after two extra time matches in the previous rounds, couldn’t find a rhythm. Modric was uncharacteristically quiet in the first forty-five. England’s shape was near perfect, utilizing their wing backs to cut off wide options and the center back trio of Maguire, Walker, and Stones had nullified the threat from Mandzukic.
Then came the second half, and the real Croatia had come to play. Modric took slightly more advanced positions and his role grew. He was at the heart of all of Croatia’s possession play. No matter the pressure on his back, Luka asks for the ball, and he receives. Not only does he receives, but he retains possession and gives his team confidence. Soon to be 33 years old, Luka was tasked with playing a third game of 120 minutes within the last 10 days and his engine never stopped. The whole team seemed to step up along with Modric, in particular Ivan Perisic. Croatia looked to utilize their full backs in the second half to push the whole team forward. It was Vrsaljko from the right who whipped in a tantalizing cross as Perisic ghosted past two defenders to nail his studs on to the ball and force into the back of the net. Croatia were level and deservedly so—the second half had been dominated by the Croats.
This was an elimination round featuring Croatia, so that meant there had to be extra time. Most would have felt that the advatange would turn to England as Croatia had just come off their second consecutive game of extra time and penalties. Instead, Croatia took another step forward and pushed their line. They wanted it just that little bit more. England switched off for a split second and Mandzukic, like the poacher that he is, lurked between both Stones and Macguire and smashed the ball into the back of the sent to send Croatia through to the World Cup Final. Both Luka and Mateo are one game away from achieving the ultimate dream for their tiny but glorious country.