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Croatia must draw on reserves for final

Croatia must draw on reserves for final

It was no surprise that Croatia cavorted on the pitch in celebration with fans and family long after beating England in the semi-finals of the World Cup on Wednesday night, but a wiser head might have ushered them quietly to ice bath and bed, reports Reuters. It was never going to happen, of course, as the ecstasy of taking a tiny nation to the final of the World Cup for the first time needed to be worked through with the people that provided the players with support and inspiration. The fact remains, though, that on Sunday they will play the biggest match of their lives against a France side bursting with youth and vigour that has had a day more rest and played the equivalent of a match fewer over the knockout rounds. It was no surprise that Croatia cavorted on the pitch in celebration with fans and family long after beating England in the semi-finals of the World Cup on Wednesday night, but a wiser head might have ushered them quietly to ice bath and bed. It was never going to happen, of course, as the ecstasy of taking a tiny nation to the final of the World Cup for the first time needed to be worked through with the people that provided the players with support and inspiration. The fact remains, though, that on Sunday they will play the biggest match of their lives against a France side bursting with youth and vigour that has had a day more rest and played the equivalent of a match fewer over the knockout rounds. Mario Mandzukic typified their efforts, running himself into the ground in the lone striker role but taking his chance to score the winner clinically when it presented itself nearly 20 minutes into extra time. Even before his goal, Mandzukic had spent some minutes on the turf after a collision with England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and an agonising attack of cramp left him once again prone on the pitch in the wake of his decisive strike. The Juventus striker finally limped off utterly exhausted six minutes from time but promised unstinting effort on Sunday to bring the World Cup back to the nation of some four million people. "We were like lions out there tonight and we will be the same in the final," he said. That the nation will be backing them to gain revenge for the World Cup semi-final loss to France in 1998 is without question, as is the fact that there will once again be an army of fans decked out in red and white checks at the Luzhniki Stadium. "We were louder, they were carrying us, they picked us up when we were not in control of the game," Dalic said of the supporters. "For Croatian football and Croatia as a country, this is history being written. I don't know of a smaller country in a World Cup final. "But we have our hearts, our pride and our players and that is what is really important to us." Croatia still have unfinished business Croatia's strength of character will serve them well in the World Cup final against France, their coach and players said after they came from behind for the third straight knockout match to beat England Wednesday, reports Reuters. The Croats, who play France Sunday 20 years after losing to them in the 1998 World Cup semi-final, fought back to beat England 2-1 after extra time, securing a first final appearance. "It was a very difficult game for us," said man of the match Ivan Perisic, who cancelled out Kieran Trippier's early goal with a fine effort before Mario Mandzukic struck in the 109th minute to complete their third straight comeback win. "We knew what was at stake and how important the semi-final is for a small country like Croatia," Perisic added. "We started slowly but we showed our character and again came from a goal behind just like we did in the previous knockout rounds." Croatia were a goal down against Denmark in the last 16 and against Russia in the quarter-final, before equalising and forcing extra time and penalty shootout. Their victory Wednesday propelled them a step further than they managed in 1998 when France went on to lift the trophy. For Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic the final is a chance to settle the score 20 years after the bitter defeat for the small Balkan nation that once again is punching above its weight. "Maybe that game has historical significance, maybe the dear Lord is giving us the chance to settle a score," Dalic said. "We reached the final, we want to play the final, France had one extra day to recover but there will be no excuses. "Nobody wanted to be substituted. Nobody wanted to say I am not ready. In extra time nobody wanted to be taken off." The French beat Belgium 1-0 Tuesday to book their spot in the final, giving them one more day of rest ahead of Sunday's showcase match at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. "We deserved to reach the final. What the lads played was fantasy, they've made history," Dalic said. "We haven't said our last word, there is still one more game to go. God willing, we will be world champion. "This tournament will be won by a team with character. We were a goal down in three games in a row. We have shown character. We will now celebrate, rest and then prepare for France. It is another daunting task but we are ready for it," Dalic added.

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