The Croatian team celebrates reaching the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

Chequered Flag Ahead: Croatia’s Road to the FIFA World Cup Final

Outsiders Croatia have made it to the FIFA World Cup Final for the first time in their history, bettering their semi-final effort from 1998. Led by Luka Modric in midfield, the team has displayed a gritty mix of determination and skill to reach the finals and stands one match away from being called World Champions.

Standing in their way are 1998 Champions France – winners of their semi-final face-off that year – who defeated Belgium in the other semi-final on 10 July to book their own berth.

Also Read: 5 Wins and a Draw: France’s Road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final

Here’s a throwback to Croatia’s journey so far:

Group Stage Match 1: Against Nigeria (2-0)

Croatian defender Demagoj Vida celebrates after Nigeria’s Etebo scores an own goal
Croatian defender Demagoj Vida celebrates after Nigeria’s Etebo scores an own goal

The quality of the midfield was exemplified in the first game when Modric and Barcelona man Ivan Rakitic controlled possession away from the Super Eagles. Croatia’s pressure from a corner eventually led to an own goal by defender Etebo.

The Africans started strong in the second half, with Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi taking two threatening shots. However, Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic was equal to all of Nigeria’s attacks. When centre-forward Mario Mandzukic was brought down inside the Nigerian box, captain Modric’s penalty effectively put the game past the Super Eagles.

Also Read: FIFA WC 2018: Own Goal & Penalty Ensure Croatia Start Strong

Group Stage Match 2: Against Argentina (3-0)

Luka Modric watches his shot go past an outstretched Willy Caballero, the Argentine goalkeeper
Luka Modric watches his shot go past an outstretched Willy Caballero, the Argentine goalkeeper

Perhaps the most impressive victory in the tournament, Croatia humbled Argentina 3-0 in their second game. With a wonderfully aggressive display, Croatia made the most of Argentina’s tactical weaknesses to run amok in the second half. Ante Rebic capitalised on Argentine keeper Caballero’s mistake to fire the team ahead.

There was no looking back. Both Modric and Rakitic scored exceptional goals, and the Croatian defence completely shut down 5-time Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi and team. This result announced Croatia as a force to be reckoned with.

Also Read: FIFA WC 2018: Classy Croatia Rout Argentina to Reach Second Round

Group Stage Match 3: Against Iceland (2-1)

Ivan Perisic shoots past Iceland goalkeeper Halles Halldorsson in the 90th minute to maintain Croatia’s win streak
Ivan Perisic shoots past Iceland goalkeeper Halles Halldorsson in the 90th minute to maintain Croatia’s win streak

Iceland were impressive at Euro 2016, and in their draw against Argentina, but coming off a loss against Nigeria. Having already secured qualification, Croatian coach Zlatko Dalić chose to substitute nine of eleven first-team players for the final match.

Spirited Iceland shows impressive spells of dominace even as Croatia dominated the midfield early on. Milan Badelj opened the scorer with a volley, but Iceland quickly equalised through a Gylfi Siggurdness penalty. However, Icelandic hopes were shattered by Ivan Perisic’s last minute goal.

Also Read: FIFA World Cup 2018: Brave Iceland Lose 2-1 to In-form Croatia

Round-of-16 : Against Denmark [1(3) - 1(2)]

Danijel Subasic saved three penalties in the shootout to secure the win
Danijel Subasic saved three penalties in the shootout to secure the win

Croatia and Denmark got off to a flying start, with each side scoring a goal within the first four minutes of the game. Mathias Jorgensen put the Danes in front at 58 seconds, but Croatia trailed for just two minutes as Mario Mandzukic equalised at the other end.

Modric missed a penalty in the second half of extra time, and the game went to the shootout. Both keepers did a great job, but Croatia ultimately pipped the Danish Dynamite 1-1 (3-2) on penalties. This was their first knockout game, and victory, since 1998.

Also Read: Croatian Keeper Makes 3 Saves in Penalty Shoot-out to beat Denmark

Quarter-Final: Against Russia [2(4) - 2(3)]

Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic watches Denis Cheryshev’s shot fly past him into the back of the net
Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic watches Denis Cheryshev’s shot fly past him into the back of the net

The Russian team had been riding a wave of home support to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since their time as the Soviet Union. Croatia fell behind at first on a spectacular goal by Daniel Cheryshev, but equalised eight minutes later.

The teams also scored in either half of extra time, with defenders Demagoj Vida and Mario Fernandez heading the ball into the net. A perfect thriller again went to penalties where Fernandez dragged his shot wide to prove the difference in Croatia’s 2-2 (4-3) win.

Also Read: Croatia Beat Russia on Penalties to Set Up Semis Clash vs England

Also Read: World Cup Fairy Tale Ends, But Not Road Forward for Russia

Semi-Final: Against England (2-1)

Ivan Perisic made a run inside and went over Kyle Walker’s head to score Croatia’s equaliser
Ivan Perisic made a run inside and went over Kyle Walker’s head to score Croatia’s equaliser

After becoming only the second team to win two penalty shootouts in the same World Cup, the Three Lions awaited the team. With fan fervour building up to the game, England seemed favourites to reach their first final since 1966.

They got off to a jittery start after conceding a free kick in the first five minutes that Kieran Tripper converted brilliantly to give England a 1-0 lead. But Croatia opened the second half strong and equalised on a unique goal by Ivan Perisic in the 68th minute. And finally, Mario Mandzukic scored in the second half of extra time to put Croatia through to the FIFA World Cup 2018 Final.

Also Read: Croatia Reach First FIFA World Cup Final After Taking Down England

Also Read: Goals, Terrific Save: 5 Big Moments From Croatia’s England Win

Croatia face France in the World Cup Final on Sunday, 15 July. After three straight games that went to extra time or beyond, but several moments of tenacity, the Croatian team will count on its perseverance and determination to be crowned World Champions.

(For complete FIFA World Cup 2018 coverage, click here to visit our special WC page)

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