Croatia Digs Deeper, Burying England’s World Cup Dreams

Croatia, in their third straight game that went to extra time, rode its resiliency to a semifinal win and ended England’s effervescent run in this tournament.

Comments: 186

  1. So heartbroken for England... Was so hoping for them to go to the final :(

  2. Why does it hurt so much?

    A loss in soccer hurts so much more than in any other sport.

    I love American football, baseball and basketball. So please, I had my heart broken plenty of times. I know whereof I speak.

  3. Tough loss. The official felt for some reason that he could not penalize Croatia more than England. Croatia seemed to take the fire out of England after that.
    Very sad for England

  4. Well done Croatia! The better team playing a better match won.

    See you on Sunday. May the best team win!

  5. Man alive that was nerve-wracking. The best England team I’ve seen since Euro 96 (vague memories of Italia ‘90) and I’m tucking into some humble pie from my earlier doubts. Fantastic.

    Well done to Croatia, I thought early in the tournament that they might go home with the trophy and I think they deserved that win after a strong second half.

  6. Congratulations to Croatia! It would be really wonderful if such a small nation would go on to win the World Cup.

  7. I thought, before the game, that Croatia's midfield would be the key. Rakitic and Modric are both excellent - a cut above anything England had in midfield. Ultimately the stats for shots on goal undermine the idea that it was just a couple of lapses by inexperienced players that caused the loss. Croatia were the better team overall and that was the basis of the win.

  8. I think Croatia's coach must have had a word with the boys at half time. They were a different team. What you do in the second half is more important than what you do in the first.

  9. France must be licking their chops. But I'd advise against it.

  10. What does this mean? Do you assume France thinks they're going to dominate Croatia? With the way Modric is playing I doubt any team relishes facing Croatia.

  11. Bill Belichick is Croatian American. Maybe England should check for a deflated soccer ball.

  12. Bad day for England...

    They lose their World Cup match to Croatia. And Donald Trump is coming for a visit tomorrow.

  13. I cannot believe Belgium failed to get there but Croatia managed.

    Oh well go Croatia.

  14. BREXIT!

  15. Yes this is perhaps an indication of Britain's further decline. Britain has been losing, losing, losing since Brexit. It is now behind India and France in the ranking of world economies.

  16. I'm guessing things are a tad grim in England at the moment. You know, a little more so than usual.

  17. Disappointed but not grim. Given ours was such a young team, they exceeded expectations.

  18. The better team won. Croatia forever!

  19. Croatia was the better team from the 60th minute on.... The fact that they won on their third overtime speaks volume of this team and their tenacity. Kane's and Lingard terrible misses in the first half may have lost it for England as they would have been up two goals, and i doubt it Croatia would have had the energy to come back from 2 nil. This is also a good lead for smaller nations to believe and organize to send their best talents to the better teams in Europe, which is the main reason these players/team are prevailing so far.

  20. Thank God disappointed British fans did not try to destroy the Kremlin !

  21. Actually, this would be one of the few times when their destruction behavior would be welcomed.

  22. I was rooting for England, but it was a good match and Croatia deserved the win. England ran out of gas at the end and missed a few gilt-edged chances. I'll be rooting for Croatia on Sunday for sure after the pathetic display of the last half-hour of France's win over Belgium.

  23. Yeah, I knew instinctively that those missed chances in the first half were going to come back and bite us.

  24. Well done, Croatia. See you at the finals!

  25. The second most devastating Brexit for England

  26. Not really, the most devastating to the Brits was when people living in the U.S. kicked the Brits out. That was, by far, the most devastating. And, if we had not joined in WWI and WWII, they would have had "most devastating #2" and "most devastating #3.

  27. Hahaha, this Brexit won’t be as damaging as the real one, hopefully! Plus, this one produces less domestic warfare - personally I’d prefer more of the football type of Brexit and less of the self-destructive acts of stupidity.

  28. The level of play is amazing. Boris Johnson could learn something about teamwork from these guys.

  29. Come on Jonathan, Boris Johnson? Learning? Come on!

  30. England started well, and the goal at the 5 M mark led them to dominate play in the first half. Starting in the second half, Croatia came on, creating chance after chance. There were several quality moments for England, but none went home. The final score was great combination play, with the fine striker for Croatia doing his job with a strong shot.

    This is the first game (after Argentina, of course) where Croatia showed their skill in midfield and strength of the balanced attack. It takes time to develop the combination play that is needed in high-level futbol, and Croatia showed that they have found that team play.

    Super job, Croatia. On to France.

  31. Well done England! Exceeded expectations, left everything out there, you cannot ask for more. They played a better side and lost, but there wasn't that much in it, and with a little luck it might've been them going to the final. Brexit, yes, but Spursy, no.

    More objectively, this was the first quality team they faced (England B v Belgium B in the group stage hardly counts) and they got outplayed. An ability to score from open play might've come in handy as well.

    Well done to Croatia. Gassed, running on fumes, still found the wherewithal to put away a very good England side. Class eventually told, and the better side won. Now to find a way to corral Mbappe and outmuscle Pogba on such heavy legs.

  32. England had the easiest route to the semis, not playing any top tier team. I was astounded they played as well as they did in the first half, but the midfield disappeared after the half and Croatia had an easy time getting to the eighteen. Kane played like a slower Alan Shearer, while Perisic should how a forward should play. It will be a long time before England reaches the semis of a major tournament again.

  33. We'll see. Last year England won the U17 World Cup and the U19 European Cup.

  34. very much england had an easier road.. croatia very much the better team as the result showed..

  35. A lot of great teams have fallen by the wayside already, after delivering some pretty amazing football.

    And there have been quite a few surprising new delights.

    In this case, I think the team that had a touch more humility, a touch less self-assurance -- but a whole lot of determination -- scooped up the win, against all odds.

    It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Croatia beats France on Sunday. That's not a prediction: it won't be easy. But this Croatian squad is tough, strong and plays good football. They have a very good chance, indeed, of overcoming a supremely self-assured French team.

    And then, please, a rest from the intensity, and back to the much more concerning trade war, and all those other political matters of urgency that have enormous implications for everyone's lives.

  36. Thank you NYT for covering this in such detail. I am an American who grew up in Europe and live between Los Angeles and Paris. I am hoping the Bleus will win the World Cup. Thank you for the coverage. So much of American reportage is so provincial and so American. Long live soccer and tennis!

  37. Thanks for covering football(not soccer!). You are the only American newspaper who actually covers the matches live. I usually follow The Guardian or The Telegraph’s live coverage but yours has been excellent. Now if you would only start covering tennis live especially the Grand Slam the two above mentioned papers.

  38. Yes, football! No one calls it soccer here.

  39. Thrilling game today, can't wait till Sunday. Not sure if I'll watch Saturday's match, I'm guessing there'll not be much heart in it.

    Disappointing to see so many UK fans blaming the loss solely on the ref.

  40. I haven't seen that. I have seen some criticism of the ref. I think he was terrible and I am not particularly an English fan. I think the ref deserves criticism, but England seemed to just lose its edge. The best thing they could have done was take cheap shots like the Croatian players did. Nock a few guys down hard. Once he started giving England yellow cards and penalties, he would have had to do the same thing to Croatia. England basically backed down.

  41. The Croatian team deserves our respect. They have been the underdogs of the tournament and have not received as much media focus as Russia or England. As a small young nation they don't have the resources to train a national team like the wealthy nations. Looking forward to seeing the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic who studied at Harvard and flew economy to Russia along with Emmanuel Macron at the final Sunday. Go Hravska!

  42. None of the coverage I’ve seen here has blamed the referee. I did notice the Croatians aggressive style, but then I also noticed Kane falling over at every opportunity. Just part and parcel of a game, really. The ref seemed fair to me.

  43. I wanted to see England win, but...deep down I felt like Croatia will put up a better fights vs France. So I am not too upset. I hope Croatia can take out the French on Sunday.

  44. Absolutely devastated (for England); it's no longer coming home. What a run for such a youthful team who can hold their heads high.

    I do, begrudgingly, believe that the better team won. Best of luck to Croatia in the final.

  45. I've watched much of this WC and I don't see why England was considered the team of "destiny" in the one, compared to Croatia. From what I saw before this match, this semi was a toss-up. I might have given a slight edge to England going into it, but that's it.

    And the match bore that out: After weathering a strong showing in the first half by England and going into the break down by only one goal, Croatia seemed to figure England out and get stronger as the second half and extra time went on.

    I would say the same about the upcoming final. I see France as being a slight favorite, but that's it. But that's why I'm looking forward to it, imo it's wide open who will win.

  46. Though I wanted England victorious; their country could use a big win, all respect and cheers for the small country of Croatia, outsiders for sure to the "big leagues" of football who nevertheless can produce players of outstanding caliber who compete with anyone.

  47. England had the easiest route. It looked to me like they where gassed by the middle of the second half. The momentum swing Croatia's way and they finished them. A great win from Croatia and their fans.

  48. Croatia wanted it more. The players played with more passion, more verve, more imagination. Particularly in the second half, England was just waiting around to see what would happen, while Croatia played with purpose and 'never-say-die' attitude. The curse was England scoring in the 5th minute. That early goal made the English players complacent, and it showed in their lack of effort. They thought they had it all wrapped up. Just goes to show that it ain't over till it's over. So far, Croatia has been the little Engine that could. Can they pull another miracle against France? I think that's when reality will descend. But even if France wins, which is highly likely, Croatia's feat will remain in memory for a long time.

  49. Wanted to see France whup England’s butt but this was a good outcome :)

  50. And they said the sun never sets on the british empire. I guess God would not save the queen this time :)

  51. How many times was Kane mugged and left for dead on the field without any fouls called?

  52. Way too many times. I don't know what the ref was doing. Croatia doesn't have a big enough treasury to pay him off. He must off relatives there.

  53. Accept your loss to a much better team.

  54. Wow Ralph, you are REALLY fixated on the Ref's calls. Did the Ref also make the Brits slow down in the Second Half? Did the Ref also make the Croats speed up their energy in the Second Half? I get that some calls were missed but your incessant whining makes it sound like the ONLY reason England lost was because of a Ref that seemed to favor Croatia. Yeah . . . I'm sure that the only reason they lost. Had nothing to do with skill, experience, energy-level, etc., etc.

  55. It was never 'coming home'

  56. I agree with a commentator I heard on tv one day that sterling’s of England likes to waste time and so waste everybody’s time too. He hesitates a lot . How many times he got chances in the opponents’ boxes but wouldn’t kick and not passing the ball either...the ball goes nowhere. He did that again today and I was so happy to see him substituted. Congrats Croatia!

  57. Those Croatians, they play Basketball with their Feet.

  58. Congratulations to Croatia and their fans.
    What a magnificent performance and determination.
    From the first whistle to start the second half they owned the next 80 minutes.
    Modric and Rakitic were superb in bossing midfield.
    Brozovic is also quite a player and never gets credit for his hard work.
    Perisic's goal was pure determination.
    Mandzukic's goal was a poacher's classic.
    Trippier's free kick was a beauty.

    Lovren and Vida had strong matches.
    Subasic did not have to do much.
    Srinic and Vsalkjo were steady and finally were able to connect passes as the second half came on.
    Rebic was quite poor today.

    This England side were overrated from the jump.
    They are ostensibly a good set piece side. And their constant long ball distribution.
    Looked like the England of 30 years ago.
    I knew they would fold as soon as they were tested, in particular that back three formation that Southgate insists on.
    Their midfield is woeful. Jordan Henderson as the linch pin? Please.
    Did Harry Kane catch the Neymar flu?
    He goes down way too easy.
    England had such an easy draw as well.
    Croatia came out of the Group of Death.

    England beat Tunisia in the last minute.
    They beat Panama who have less football infrastructure than the San Francisco Deltas.
    They Lost to Belgium's reserves.
    They beat a Columbia side on PK's who were missing their best player.
    They beat the dreadful Swedes.
    They lost to Croatia, a much better side.
    Let's keep things in perspective.

  59. Exactly right. England was a good team but had more than their share of luck. The best team won today.

  60. They lost to Belgium reserves on purpose so they got into the easy group.

  61. Croatia does have a good defense. I still can't believe no one has mentioned the ref. A blind person could see that he blatantly and quite obviously called the game in Croatia's favor. A different ref and the game would have had a different outcome. If you don't believe me, go back and watch the game closely.

  62. It was rather strange how he refused to book any of their players for quite blatant professional fouls. Did it make a difference to the result? (Shrugs.) Hard to say. Croatia were clearly on top after half-time, but they may have been encouraged that their tactical fouls could continue unhindered,

  63. Sadly, you can always be accused of sour grapes when you point that out. But, I had the same reaction. I couldn't believe the gross fouls that he overlooked on behalf of Croatia. I realize many people are enamored with the magic of Croatia being in the finals, but they play like thugs---and, they play together well like thugs. I hadn't picked a favorite in this tournament until today and it's France. Vive Les Bleus. Let's hope for a fair ref.

  64. That game was called in England’s favor.

  65. It's totally understandable that the English press would fixate on the charms (both real and imagined) of their home country team. Reading the Telegraph, Guardian, etc., it's no surprise to see that Croatia's strengths barely got noticed. It's a shame that the NYT got caught up in this same affliction.

    Croatia's midfielders have been setting the tempo pretty relentlessly for the entire World Cup. They move the ball well. They create opportunities. And they grind down opponents on time-of-possession. If you look at the overall stats for the Croatia-England game, the final score is actually the closest element of them all. Croatia ends up with a big edge in time of possession, in number of passes, in passing accuracy, in total shots and in shots on goal.

    There's still time to write an article about what Croatia did right.

  66. You are correct about the NYT.

  67. Actually, Raktic has had a rather subdued World Cup playing second fiddle for Modric. Many passing mistakes last night. All agree on the sheer brilliance of Modric. But last night, until that burst of activity in the last 40 minutes, he looked utterly spent. Should be a walk-over for France, Sunday.

  68. Hats off to a young English side and to a more experienced Croatia for a thrilling match. I'm a little weepy after screaming foe England for 90 minutes plus penalties. This Scot is torn between Croatia and France in the final. If Putin brings Trump to the final as his Sunday night date I'll be weeping for the world, not just the cup.

  69. Les Bleus fan here, but during the Croatia|Russia match, seeing the Croatian coach treating his players with respect vs. the Russian coach rolling his eyes, shaking his head in disgust and berating his players, I developed an unexpected affection for the Croatian team and their coach. They seem to share a special bond.
    Looks like we have an interesting final ahead.

  70. ---Also notable was England Manager Gareth Southgate embracing each and every member of his fantastic squad after the match. Though surely disappointed, he also had the composure and class to acknowledge his team's great run, and to show them not only his pride in their accomplishment, but his humanity in taking care of his guys. That's a great Manager.

  71. For any student of history, far less significant than an England vs. France final would be! Nonetheless, Croatia played a better game in their defeat of the English.

  72. It's said that bad things happens in sets of three, and perhaps that's true in England's case: Brexit melt-down, soccer loss to Croatia and Mr Trump's visit.

  73. Mr. Trump's visit actually being worse than losing to Croatia.

  74. Actually the British should welcome him home as Trump's mother was a British citizen. We can thank a German father and a British mother for Mr. Trump. I can assure you that if Trump were the progeny of any other country, we would be hearing about it every day!!!!

  75. You have to score to win. It's as simple as that. England was not very creative and lacked anyone who could beat a player or two to create something from nothing. They had near misses and have no one to blame but themselves. Harry Kane was a big dud. The French carry much more poise throughout the ranks than England so I expect the going will be rougher for Croatia. A 3-0 shut out would not surprise me.

  76. Had Kane got luckier with his shot before half-time, England would have been 2-0 up and would have won the match. These things turn on chance moments.

  77. ....and Harry Kane trumps (no US pun intended) Rooney, Beckham, etc. Class gentleman and teammate with talent to spare

  78. Why does Croatia team remind me so much of the US Hockey of 1980. They’re extremely cohesive as a team and with 3 consecutive overtime’ wins with 2 finally being decided on penalty kicks, you could not write a better script, especially consider their county did not exist 30 yrs ago and only have a population of 4M people. This story is for the ages, even if they don’t win the final game. The only missing is having them play Russia in the final.

  79. This Croatian and 4 million others love your comment

  80. As a fan with no rooting interests left, this Croatia side has the sort of team spirit that I haven't seen since Italy upset everyone in 2006, down to the "take one for the team" yellow cards and a midfield genius who's never gotten the credit due on his club full of megastars.

    I expect a less-bitter final against France than we saw back then, though. Despite my biases, I find this France squad more likable than the protagonists of 2006.

    But obviously, I hope Croatia wins it all.

  81. Ever since Croatia beat Denmark and then Russia, I wanted them in the final. The world cup isn't just about the G-8 winning. I still think France will prevail, but what a game it will be. This has been the most exciting world cup in my memory.

  82. Two problems for England. First, the ref allowed the Croatian thuggery. But, they could have overcome that. I think the early goal was bad for them. It took there edge off and Croatia regained its edge at halftime. England got too busy thinking about Les Bleus.

  83. Thuggery? No such thing in this game, only some drama from England dropping and rolling at the slightest touch and in two cases no touch. Croatian team is classy - they won fair and square with skill and endurance. Don’t be a sore loser.

  84. Well done Croatia. Great strategy start to finish - and I mean that, including the first half.

    I disagree with the article waxing on about burning legs and exhaustion and beating the odds, the article completely missed the point that this game was played by Croatia as chess vs. checkers.

    It was clear from about 15 minutes in by looking at the players’ body language what would happen: Croats were mostly walking and jogging, relaxed, expending occasional bursts of energy as needed and running England into hyperdrive, burning their energy and focus.

    They mistook Croatia’s initial quiet, “diagnostic” soft pace as weakness and underestimated the lurking dangers of playing a long game against endurance players who only get more energetic and more accurate under duress. The Croats used pace and pressure to build their advantage. Sometimes you gotta watch out for the quiet ones. Well done.

  85. The Red, White, and Blue stripes flag will win the 2018 World Soccer Cup.

    The question is will the stripes be vertical or horizontal?

  86. In fairness, England outdid France. Les bleus got their goal at the 51-minute mark and only had to sit back and let Belgium do all the work for 39 minutes.

    England, on the other hand, got their goal at 5 minutes and did nothing (until Croatia scored) for a full 63 minutes!! No wonder Croatia were tired, doing all the playing for two teams for over an hour!

    After some puzzlement about why England didn't simply hand the ball back to Croatia after each turnover, I think now I understand that, in the case of a handball, Croatia would get possession at the point of infraction. By kicking Croatia the ball instead, England forced them to start somewhat further back. In any case, England clearly had no interest whatever in maintaining possession -- until after the 68th-minute equalizer.

  87. That is quite a unique slant on things Joe. I'm not sure if it is meant as parody, sarcasm, to bash England, or maybe to bash Croatia, or perhaps as sincere analysis...

    In any case, I'm pretty sure not many would agree with you (myself included), that England was content to sit on one early goal (in a WC semi no less) and, for what would have to have been a first in soccer/futbol history, had no interest in maintaining possession for well over half of regulation time.

    Also, I think most would disagree with your view that Croatia was tired, when it was clear that Croatia stepped on the gas and took control of the match as the second half and extra times went on.

    But imo you get points for sharing an original perspective.

  88. The older Croatian team that had played many more minutes getting to this match nevertheless kept up great pressure throughout, chasing every ball everywhere the whole game -- very impressive (can we trust the doping controls?). The ref chose to ignore many, seemingly obvious fouls by the Croats (why no VAR corrections?). The younger English team looked tired soon after halftime and the English missed badly on some golden opportunities. Voila!

  89. This well-written account of the England-Croatia soccer game captured the physical and emotional essence of this hard fought competition.

  90. Who did England beat?
    Tunisia, Panama, and Sweden.
    The shootout win over Columbia was pure luck.
    Belgium and Croatia exposed the farse. If either Iceland, Mexico, or Costa Rica was there instead of Panama, England would have never advanced out the group stage-like in 2014.
    To reach the semis is encouraging. Notwithstanding their limited skills and techniques.

  91. A lot of people in England spent their time trashing other teams these last days. The uglier you play, the more you talk. Getting to the World Cup finals, and win the World Cup, demands a lot more than trash talk and long passes.

  92. As a fan of Argentina, don’t forget that the road to the finals goes through Argentina... both teams did so , fairly easily I might add

  93. Croatia really caught fire after their first goal, and the air seemed to go out of England.
    Croatia should not expect the air to go out of France, no matter what happens. This goes especially for the Boys from the Banlieues.
    I hope France crushes Croatia.
    Sorry, no time for more in-depth commentary.

  94. No can do - Croatia is taking it home this time.

  95. I get why you might hope that France wins but why would you hope that they crush Croatia?

  96. Because Croatia has played very 'foul' ball since the first match.......and gotten away with most of it.

  97. Now THAT'S a Brexit I can live with!
    Well played Croatia.

  98. Congratulations, Rory. You certainly reached the level of Sid at the Guardian with your superb coverage of the England-Croatia match. I might say however that you might have mentioned that England had by far the easiest draw in the tournament (and Croatia one of the hardest!) thereby probably masking their true value as a top quality team able to even get to a semi-final at all.

    Still, a good job by you & well done. You don't have to block me on Twitter anymore!

  99. Absolutely ecstatic with the result. We are bombarded every day with British bravado and this would have only stoked the fire. This country has only won the Cup once in its entire history. I heard they sang God Save the Queen. Perhaps they cried it? They even stole their flag from Genoa.
    The only group I pity are the Russians who will have to endure the wrath of their rowdy unruly and misbehaving fans.

  100. bigdoc - yes the US media still has an affinity for the British. In spite of the Revolutionary War - it never really went away. All former British colonies strangely still follow the comings and goings of the British royal family. I'm frankly surprised England beat Colombia.

  101. Well done Croatia. Great strategy start to finish - and I mean that, including the first half.

    I disagree with the article waxing on about burning legs and exhaustion and beating the odds, the article completely missed the point that this game was played by Croatia as chess vs. checkers.

    It was clear from about 15 minutes in by looking at the players’ body language what would happen: Croats were mostly walking and jogging, relaxed, expending occasional bursts of energy as needed and running England into hyperdrive, burning their energy and focus.

    They mistook Croatia’s initial quiet, “diagnostic” soft pace as weakness and underestimated the lurking dangers of playing a long game against endurance players who only get more energetic and more accurate under duress. The Croats used pace and pressure to build their advantage. Sometimes you gotta watch out for the quiet ones. Well done.

  102. Nice analysis LA. I got the same impression in a general sense watching the match, but as someone who is a tennis player and fan/observer of sports in general. So it's interesting to hear someone with knowledge break it down.

  103. The Croats were "mostly walking and jogging, relaxed, expending occasional bursts of energy"? Did we watch the same game? The English ran them ragged the first 25-20 mins of the game and easily could have added a second. In fact the set-piece came from a foul caused by an attacking Dele Alli running at pace at the Croatian box, causing Luca Modric to barge him over from behind. Raheem Sterling also made the Croatian defense stretch its legs regularly. Your interpretation of the play seems to have it that England were just running around like headless chickens while Croatia bid their time until the English tired. That wasn't the semi-final match I saw.

  104. I agree with this comment by LA 3 NYC, even if I didn't see it at the time, I did see England fall off their game in the second half and overtime, more exhausted, their confidence shattered, while the Croatia team dominated with ball control.

    But Croatia also seemed in the first half to be unusually rough, and deserved 3 yellow cards and a red card that they didn't get. Or was that just good, rough football? I fear that Fifa football is going the way of American NHL hockey, and getting more and more violent.
    (Columbia was over the top with foul and dirty play against England, almost all of which the ref did not call.)
    I also liked a criticism from another commenter, of the Fox news casters. They were pathetic, and I wanted to mute their inane and silly remarks. They appeared to jinx the England team by supporting them like village idiots.
    Future remotes need a second mute button, to turn off bad commentary. They certainly didn't see or notice the Croatia team pacing themselves. Croatia deserved this win. As I learn about and admire Fifa football, I focus on patience and control being the keys to having a good day on the field, and Croatia led on these metrics for the last two thirds of the game.

    David Lindsay Jr. is the author of "The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam," and blogs at and

  105. Congratulations to Croatia for rising above the challenges and making it all the way to the finals of the World Cup! The entire team worked and fought for this moment for the past few weeks and have now succeeded. Watching this game unfold was very exciting (even though the team I wanted to win did not make it) mainly for the fact that it was a neck-and-neck game. I will say that each of these teams had worked very hard, especially during the game, to beat each other and then Croatia came in clutch in the last bits of time to scavenge just one more goal to finish off the game 2-1. Don't get me wrong, England had a hard fight up to the semifinals, but Croatia came out on top. The only thing now is to just wait and see who will win the finals, France or Croatia.
    I decided to pick this article mainly because it was something I could relate to. When I use to play baseball, there was a game where it all came down to the last few minutes and our team hit a home run to finish it off. It just goes to show that when you put your mind to something and try hard enough, it can become yours. I feel that this is a great way to finish off a game because it keeps people on the edge of their seats to see the outcome of the game.
    Anyways, great job on the hard fought win Croatia!!!

  106. What an extraordinary moving and emotional essay on a fabulous match.

    Rory, you truly are a fabulous writer and I've enjoyed your writing so much that I've switched here from Guardian.

  107. The best two teams are in the finals. In my opinion France is poised to win, but I won't complain if Croatia makes it.

  108. An inspiring win by the gutsiest team I've seen in the World Cup ever. Croatia played three extra time games in 10 days against the best in the world and prevailed each time. One of the most extraordinary performances in sport ever seen. And all by a country of 4 million. Go all the way guys we're all rooting for you. Hearts of Lions.

  109. Awesome win. The perfect finals coming up.

  110. I took my car in to the dealership for service last Friday, and had a great time watching one of the games (Uruguay v France) and chatting with the other customers in the lounge. There was an older gentleman originally from Argentina, and young guy who was rooting for Croatia to go all the way -- his mom's family background was Croatian, his dad was Albanian and emigrated to the US from Kosovo at age 22. The other guy in the lounge was originally from Ghana. It was very enjoyable to hear their astute comments on the game.

    Yesterday while walking my dog, I went by the little French restaurant in my neighborhood, Petit Robert, and they had a tv set outside with a big crowd watching the semifinal against Belgium. France had just scored and the crowd went wild. (Not English-level wild, they didn't spray their wine around like the English spray their beer when the team scores. But still!)

    One of the reasons I love the World Cup is that anything can happen. Whether France or Croatia prevails in the final, we've seen some fantastic moments in the past weeks.

  111. Croatia played a very rough game. I think the following sums it up: Rose entered the game - was immediately knocked down- no foul was called - and the Fox announcer says: "welcome to the game". France won't put up with those shenanigans -so it should be quite a game.

  112. Oh come on, game was fair. Don't talk about Croatia being "rough". Croatian team get respect throughout the whole tournament for playing clean footbal. Frenchies are well known for their dirty play.

  113. Thank you. Even a blind person could see that the referee was blind as to all the fouls committed by the Croatian team. It was quite frankly disgusting to watch. Why do they have cameras recording everything if they are not used to make the game fair?

  114. What I saw was England roughing and holding from the start, the ref not calling anything, and Croatia apparently saying to themselves, hey, if that's the way the game's being called, we've got to follow suit.

  115. Ok, there is a God, and She is magnificent!!!

  116. Zivjeli!!! Croatia perseverance and talent prevail until they win the World Cup

  117. Croatia as a nation has always had its back against the wall. Croats don't back down. I can see the same script vs France, the favorite unraveling when faced with the guts and determination of this amazing unit.

  118. Well deserved. These guys are playing amazing games, I expected to carry the Cup home.

  119. I guess this means the conflicts with the Wimbledon finals are over.

  120. Just a PS to my previous comment - Cuneyt Cakir (the referee) did an abysmal job - which shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, being all too familiar with many of his past decisions on the pitch. I'm surprised he was chosen for the semifinal. England probably would have lost in any case, but Cakir's performance certainly did not help them.

    Allez Les Bleues!

  121. Whoops - Les Bleus - typo!

  122. I’m still in shock, watching England fall apart, playing wide and leaving the ball in Croatia’s all-but-hands.

    A new style of soccer seems to be proving the way to go at these matches- go for a relatively tight offensive formation, spread only on defense, and not as far as you have traditionally.

    It was why Nigeria remained in so long - powering balls downfield in an even more tightly packed wedge formation as traditional team players tried to cover the whole field at all times, great when they had rhe ball, but they just couldn’t keep possession against tight-pack play.

    If France is knocked out, soccer will definitely be changed, in style, for the next 16 years, at least.

    Croatia deserved the win both on its own merits and England’s ability to acr on the change. It’s almost parallel to whst Roger Zelazny said about boxing - if you sre trained strictly to wrestle, boxing moves are like the the fourth dimension, something you just can’t see.

    Change with the times or stand there, scratching your head wondering where did THAT come from?

    Croatia played a much mote traditional game than Nigeria, but nothing like the English “cover your section of the field and work king passes”, which doesn’t work when 4 to six players, passing the ball in a tight knot, rush by.

  123. I wanted England to win, but I am not quite sure why everybody seems to be so happy with their performance.
    Their players were clearly outworked in the second half. I understand that Croatia has two of the best midfielders in the world, but that is still no reason for them to win most of the loose balls.
    I saw a lack of effort from the brits, some of them were so lumbering when going against the faster and harder working Croatians.
    As to the coach, he clearly was not capable of injecting more enthusiasm in his players.

  124. People over here are amazed and happy that they made it to the semis. They are a young team, but they've got a fine manager. Gareth Southgate was a player and he is English. He's the best manager they've had in ages. He's focussed, serious and has gained much respect from the players and the fans. If he stays as manager, I think the team could go from strength to strength, gaining more experience and becoming more seasoned. Yes, they were fatigued. This is all new for them. We didn't expect them to win in our household, but they did well to get as far as they did; overall, they did very well. I'm sure that if things keep going in a positive direction, they'll be back.

  125. A super plucky team with grit.. You go Croatia!!!

  126. What a World Cup ! My Italians were not in so I was free to enjoy the games. The Russians were a pleasure to watch, the English were wonderful, the French are powerful but as usual arrogant. Go Croatia.

  127. What a match! I enjoyed every minute of it. Croatia grew on me as I watched them play exciting football during the group stage and when they thrashed Argentina, I knew that this was a special team. They have talent and grit, 2 qualities they are going to need badly against an equally talented and elegant French side. I have never been a fan of English football but I have to admit that they too grew on me although not as much as Croatia. I can’t wait for the final to start.

    I watched the match on Fox and I have to admit being really put off by the commentary. It was as if they had already anointed England as the winner and Croatia was just an irritant that needed to go away. Their ignorance of the quality and class of the Croatian team was painfully obvious. Ditto for Uruguay, another talented and determined team. Oh well...

    Go Croatia!!!

  128. Agreed about fox coverage. Horrible. Watch the final on telemundo and enjoy real announcers!

  129. I just watch with Telemundo. I understand almost no Spanish but the commentary is so much more exciting than what's on FOX.

  130. Some of the English players behaved and reacted like hooligans. In the absence of USA Brazil was my team. I did not care for any of European empire teams winning. France has to answer for Haiti, Vietnam, Akgeria, Mali and Cambodia. Go Croatia!

  131. This was a great game with significant momentum changes, though both teams should realize this was their best chance to get to a World Cup final. Croatia is older, more experienced, yet England has youth though not enough technical ability, especially in the midfield, to compete with the world’s top levels. In the end, this side of the bracket was a gift to Croatia and England; if you had told either side before the tournament that they could take their respective paths in the knockout rounds to get to the final, they would have been ecstatic. England beat all the teams they were supposed to, except Croatia, which although lower ranked seemed to want it a bit more. Would never count them out seeing how they fight, though France has to feel good about their chances.

  132. What A beautiful and poignant article. Thank you.

  133. Very entertaining game. Great win for the country of Croatia. I will be a Croatian fan for Sunday's game. The play of Luka Modric is a joy to watch and reminds me of the wonderful play of Andrea Pirlo when he played for the Azzurri.

  134. The stronger team mentally won the game. The Croats showed grit and determination and despite being a goal down had confidence in their game plan. The English played like they had the game sown up after the first goal. As the game went on you could tell that the Croats were getting the upper hand and the English were struggling for answers. Having played the easiest schedule throughout the tournament to get here the English finally showed their lack of true talent. More importantly, with all the "bringing football home" hype that the English media had spun became their mental baggage and left them empty. They will be bringing themselves home, minus the World Cup. Deservedly.

  135. Bring it home-not. Overrated and over-hyped by the press. That 9 of the 12 goals scored were from set plays says a lot.

  136. Croatia's run is truly remarkable, 3 OT wins. No small feat, as if they played an extra game to arrive at the final. After a sluggish first half, they came to life and overwhelmed the Brits. Very exciting game, with the Croats pushing and pushing until they made two wonderful goals, while the Brits had chance that were squandered. Still, no one expected either team to get this far.
    France, more of a powerhouse, must be wondering how to stop the pesky and talented Croats. It feels like destiny is on their side. Should be a thrilling final!

  137. Croatia outplayed England who, except for their lone goal, hardly had a shot on goal for the rest of the game.

    France, always my favorite, was lucky to squeak by an energetic Belgian team and they will have to seriously up their game to beat these newly inspired Croats.

  138. Sport is at its greatest when it transcends the outcome on the field, documented for posterity in this truly beautiful account capturing England’s surreal adventures at the World Cup. The England soccer team for too long has been little beyond a showcase for ego, turning off the interest of all but the most devoted supporters. This time we have a manager who is passionate and humble, and players that care more for the team and the fans than for themselves.

  139. I am not sure why so many pundits were raving on and on about England. I understand wildly optimistic ravings from fans and believers, but surely one should expect more from so-called pundits or analysts. England was never good enough - and it was blindingly obvious from day one;in fact, it was for many months even before the actual tournament began. First - England had the easiest ride of any WC teams in the qualification rounds (a pub team comprised of half-wits would have qualified); second, the luck of the bracket - you couldn't have dreamed of an easier bracket; third, a WC group comprised of footballing giants like Panama and Tunisia (England, of course, promptly lost its first competitive match of note against Belgium); fourth, knock-out matches against minnows Colombia and Sweden. Come on guys, how could England not have progressed to the semis with such huge odds in its favour. Further, discounting its goals against mighty Panama, England failed to score goals in open play and relied almost solely on set plays. So, of course, surprise surprise, England collapsed in its first stern test against Croatia, a technically superior team. Don't get me wrong - I was rooting for England, but the lack of quality, particularly in the second half, was obvious. I am sorry, but booting the ball downfield, is unworthy of a WC contender. Croatia was the better team - and by a considerable distance . . .

  140. Croatia sending Brazil home was a very big surprise to me. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the year's Copa do Mundo. Let's see in France can hold them down this Sunday. Lots of very young, and very fast players in this World Cup. I wish I were there to see the games in situ. Go France go.

  141. @PS
    Great analysis of how England lasted so long in this World Cup. The tedious quadrennial overrating of England’s WC squad just never goes away. It’s a weird reoccurring sports rash.
    The English teams from 1990 and 1998 were far superior to this one. The misfortune of those teams was to have played tough competition earlier in the tournament. This bunch will never be world beaters. Nice final matchup. Hopefully Croatia will recharge in time.

  142. It was Belgium who beat Brazil.

  143. Brazil was sent home by Belgium, not Croatia.

  144. I watched the game twice. Mr Bean, (the referee) was brutal. He clearly erred in favor of Croatia and allowed them (Louvren especially) to act like thugs with no calls and no yellows. Only one would have settled Louvren and the others down. They pushed and shoved and no call. They dive on one touch and he calls it. He missed a clear PK on Sterling, called a yellow on Walker for holding the ball while Croatia did the same and nothing. His linesman missed a clear corner in front of him. It goes on. Yes, England got tired but you would too if you were battling not only the other team but the ref.

    Interestingly, my TV halftime commentators all noted how tired Croatia was but after 90 minutes they wondered "where Croatia got the energy from." I think in future, FIFA needs 4 or 5 observers in each dressing room both before the game and also at halftime and on the bench during the game. All fluids must be reviewed and approved by FIFA. Caffeine levels must be set and monitored.

    The Times has noted the prevalence of blood doping in past World Cups and Croatia's amazing stamina is suspicious unless FIFA brings in proper supervision and testing of all players after each game. They can certainly afford to do it.

  145. "England somehow wound up with just one shot on goal: the first-half score by Trippier. Of their other 10 shots, six were off target and four were blocked. In contrast, Croatia fired off 22 shots, getting seven of them on net."

    Why is it so hard to hit the net in soccer? Why does the clock keep running during stoppages in play? Why is soccer not like hockey or basketball?

  146. It's hard to hit the net right on because you're generally (not always but generally) shooting through a bunch of opposing players who throw their bodies into blocking your shot. The clock keeps running because if it didn't the match would take about three hours and fans don't want that (although FIFA might appreciate the ad revenue); it would ruin the flow of the game. And lastly, it's not like hockey or basketball because it's a different sport, it's more open, free-flowing, and beautiful.

  147. What a beautifully written piece, on deadline. Classic storytelling. Thank you, Mr. Smith

  148. British were right: It (Britain's lack of humility, overconfidence, you name it) came home!

    A third defeat against Belgium awaits on Saturday. That will make three out of seven games. A bit too much for a team which crowned itself World champion after largely defeating a team that had never scored in a World Cup.

  149. The finest England team in memory. Hold together lads. You will get better and stronger with experience. Amazing run.
    Croatia-terrific play. Beat France!

  150. Great writing. I read the first two paragraphs over again to feel the agony of physical pain so brilliantly captured by the writer. Bravo!

  151. I listened to the Fox commentators with a smirk on my face. When England had possession it was what they were doing with the ball, when Croatia had possession it was about what England just did with the ball and England's eventual return to the final. They didn't seem to notice that Croatia had talent, grit, a determination to never give up or slow down, an extremely dangerous combination. Hats off to both teams for playing a truly world class game.

  152. Well played Croatia. You had a bit more experience in midfield but I'm very pleased with the England attitude and approach. Good luck in the final Croatia - I hope the game is as good as the whole tournament - which has been excellent. A little disappointed in a few snippy comments against England on here though

  153. England lost its third round robin came on purpose so it could be it the easy group. It lost on purpose! They didn’t overachieve they simply have a average team! Nothing more.

  154. I think it’s worth pointing out here - for the benefit of some of the commenters - that the song/chant “It’s coming home” isn’t about braggadocio or arrogance - it’s about melancholy at tournaments lost but also hope. We sing it because we’re used to being knocked out in these things, not because we think the cup is already ours. Sure, maybe that does seem odd. I bought the EP of that song in 1996. Take it from me - it’s not boastful.

    The hype is from a public and press who have watched years of uninspiring England performances by big name players at Club level, all with competing egos, being squashed by much more advanced styles. “It’s our best side yet” is always said at least once beforehand, and then there’s a crashing humiliation and both a public, media and FA autopsy. Managers sacked, the usual who-oh-why op-eds about players who don’t care about wearing the national colours, about the domination of the Premier League, about the amount of overseas players in that league etc etc. It’s always depressing.

    This year we arrived with zero hopes, then were thrilled - 80% of the hype here was sheer disbelief, the rest was pure excitement. It’s been a nice few weeks - the country is burning down, but the weather has been nice and for once we didn’t crash out in the Group stages and were, briefly, united.

  155. ---One of the best games yet, in a World Cup that's been full of exciting games! I gotta feel for England, but Croatia certainly earned their way into the Championship game. While the action swung both ways for much of the game, the Croatian team seemed to have the upper hand in the second half and extra time. Playing with a man down at the end seemed to seal England's fate. What a great watch.

  156. Early on in the World Cup, I was half-watching Croatia versus someone, and pretty soon, it became apparent that this was a side that possessed a relentless motor. One player in particular, Luka Modric, seemed to be everywhere. Although he looked diminutive against many of his opponents, he was fast, clever and always hustling. And a brilliant passer.

    Based upon my admittedly untrained eye, I felt Croatia was a team to be reckoned with, perhaps event a finalist.For once, watching soccer, I was right.

  157. Luka Modric is one of those guys who has the gift of knowing where everyone is on the pitch: his own players and the opposing players. It's a very valuable skill and takes you far. And even though my cousins are French, go Croatia!

  158. Thank you to all for nice words about Croatia. We are a small country, 4 million people, and this is a great achievement for us. If only we would have better politicians, who would know how to lead the country to prosperity, that would be also great!

  159. Proud to be Croatian. Also BIG thank you to all Americans and other nationalities for supporting the Croatian team!!

  160. While Croatia has undeniably a more mature and an arguably better team, the manner in which they were allowed to play by the referee was disgusting. This was by far the dirtiest most referee tilted game in the tournament. I like Croatia and I was happy to see them progress until yesterday. I’m still glad they made it thru but this victory was hollowed out. It’s easy to dominate the midfield when most of your posession is thru unpunished foul and obstruction.

  161. It's strange Bogdan, I have been a casual fan of soccer/futbol for about a decade, but I am a general fan of sports and athletic competition. I just didn't see it as anything out of the ordinary for either team. Especially for the late rounds of the sport's premier tournament. Maybe I have just completely discounted the degree of fouling because generally both teams do it, because for better or worse flopping has become an integral feature of this sport, and because the refs generally keep it from spiraling out of control. I just assume that, unless a player is actually carted off the field and substituted out, the foul was not all that bad and the player is trying to sell it to the ref and/or kill the clock...

  162. It's easy to dominate the midfield when your midfield is Luka Modric and Ivan Rakatic.

  163. Thank you NYT for this beautiful article

  164. Gotta love Brexit! Get a taste of the pain.

  165. It's a truism in American sportscasting that hitting a fastball is the hardest thing in sport. Right. Watch any of the goals in this game and get back to me.

  166. Excellently well-written. Thank you.

  167. A fantastic effort from Gareth Southgate and a young team. We exceeded our expections, will improve and will be back stonger for Euro 2020 and the World Cup in 2022

  168. England is always overrated. Yeah yeah - I know it's the Anglo bias. Good for Croatia. I would have been glad if Uruguay and Belgium were in the other semi final. A small country hasn't won since Uruguay decades ago.
    Still this has been an exciting World Cup - full of surprises. One surprise was that England made it so far. More shocking is that Holland and Italy never made it...

  169. It's rare when an article about a sporting event is as breathtakingly exciting as the game itself, but Rory Smith's description has accomplished just that. I look forward to Sunday's final game and hopefully Smith's article about it.

    Stanley Mazaroff

  170. Was it just me or did it look like the English players were seniors ready to get SS.

    I know Soccer is not an easy game but the Croats made them look like old men.

  171. Beautiful writing, Rory.

  172. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic anchored an amazing world-class midfield that England couldn't match in skill and ultimately endurance. Croatia won, not by digging deeper than England, as this article naively suggests, but through superior skills and making the ball do the work.

  173. Devasatated to be eliminated, I really thought we were good enought to win it. On the night, we just didn't make enough of our dominance of the first hour and just went to sleep for Croatia's second goal. Pickford the man of the tournament for me, just can't rid myself of the feeling that they will never have a better chance. Unless you're a Browns fan, you lovely American people probably don't know the existential dread that is the lot of the England football fan.
    I thought the lad that played on the right wing for Croatia was magnificent.
    France to win 3-1 in the final, they'll be way to strong and quick for an aging and tired Croatia. Allez Les Bleus!

  174. I was rooting for England until I read the story about how the brits trashed an Ikea store, in England, after they beat Sweden

    They didnt deseve to win

  175. Croatia was a very dirty team, so many uncalled fouls, the English side played with great sportsmanship, so proud of the lads, I will be cheering for France!

  176. England tried to score when Croatian players celebrated the 2:1.
    This is what you call sportsmanship!!!
    What is your comment on this?
    And regarding fouls, its always England complains that they want to play those kind of games (man game).
    But looser always have reasons to complain.

  177. Db: couldn’t have said it better

  178. England did not lose. Croatia won. Get it right.

  179. Well deserved Croatia.

  180. Before this match, English media kept asking the question: how do we beat France? And I remember hearing them drone on and on and kept thinking to myself YOU HAVEN'T EVEN PLAYED THE SEMIFINAL YET!!

    The arrogance and meanness of the English was fully evident after the match with Colombia, where English fans and pundits were denegrating South American teams and accusing them of being cheats who didn't deserve to play in the final games of the tournament. Serves you right for your snobbery and ethnocentric worldview.

    Also, unlike England, Croatia have a team of intercontinental stars who are key to their respective teams. None of the players on this English team play anywhere other than England and only a few of them have actually won anything. Also, with the exception of Harry Kane, most of those English players are completely disposeable to their clubs. United doesn't need Rashford. Manchester City doesn't need Sterling. Everton went nowhere with Pickford in goal. Individually, almost none of them are key to their club's success and as a collective, well, you can pretty much guess what they add up to. All things considered, they should be thankful they even have a chance at a bronze medal.

  181. England was the most overrated team in the World Cup and their media have this incredible high opinion considering they’ve achieved so little in the international arena. As a Brazilian of French descent I hope France will win the World Cup and since the original cup is named after Jules Rimet, a French, it may be coming home after all! Allez les Bleus!

  182. What England has is a vibrant media. There was no talk of how do we beat France. Maybe it's your preconceived idea of the British media. This England team wasn't expected to do very well, certainly not achieve a place in the semi final. In fact of the two teams; England and Brazil, which one do you think 'failed'? At least you didn't lose 7-0 to the Germans.

  183. England lost a golden opportunity! I don't think they will ever get a chance where they have to face so many average teams in WC to get to the semi-finals.

    And let's face it. England was an average team and should be happy that they came this far with this team. I have never seen any major semi-final where the goal keeper was kicking so many long shots out to the field and hoping to find someone. They lost to the only two good teams they faced: Belgium and Croatia. Sweden was too weak. The manager is good at managing, but not very good at understanding the game.

  184. The referee was pathetic in the first half failing to deal with Croatian thuggery. Mandzukic already had a yellow when he deliberately crashed into Harry Kane's back = another yellow = RED. How would have that changed the game????? And there was no way that Kane was offside when he nearly put the ball in on the left post. Worst refereed game of this World Cup by far.

  185. England only faced Tunisia, Panama, Belgium’s reserves, Colombia (without their best player) and Sweden to get to the semis... You can’t get an easier run than that. Croatia was the only decent team they faced. This was their best chance in decades and they failed. The path was completely clear!
    Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina and Holland won’t be as weak the next time around.

  186. They had the luck of the draw, but they were a young team. Before the tournament success was considered to be a place in the last eight. Good luck to Croatia, they were a better team.