FIFA World Cup 2018: Croatia were not supposed to be here
Luka Modric was not supposed to be here. Born during the Croatian War of Independence, he was alive to see his grandfather being killed while farming. His family had to move frequently as refugees, with football being his only solace from a world filled with bombs, bullets and land mines.
Dejan Lovren and Danijel Subasic were not supposed to survive similar tales of destruction.
Ivan Rakitic was not supposed to be wearing a Croatian shirt. Born in Switzerland to Croatian refugees, Rakitic had represented Switzerland at youth level. He could have opted for the relatively easier path of continuing to play for Switzerland than joining the crazy world that is Croatian football.
Croatia were not supposed to be in Russia. Having suffered a heartbreaking last-minute draw to lowly Finland, Croatia needed a result in their final game against Ukraine to even reach the qualification playoffs.
At that time, the federation chose to fire their manager and hire Zlatko Dalic, who was coaching in Abu Dhabi at that time. It was the type of a panicky move that often ends a World Cup campaign.
The ‘New Golden Generation’ had seemingly ended, with Modric, Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic leaving their primes and entering the 30s. They dispatched Ukraine 2-0.
Croatia were not supposed to win their playoff encounter against Greece. The Greeks had reinvented their national team and were significantly younger than Croatia. Croatia won the two-legged tie 4-1.
Even after qualifying for the World Cup, Croatia were not supposed to make an impact. Their opening game was against an exciting Nigeria side, who were a welcome contrast to the ‘same old’ Vatreni. Croatia got a convincing 2- 0 win.
After that win, Croatia were not supposed to repeat that performance against Argentina. Ante Rebic was not supposed to take advantage of a Willy Caballero error. Luka Modric was not supposed to play the game of his life, culminating in a wonder goal. Ivan Rakitic was not supposed to finish a brilliant team goal. All of those things happened: Croatia won 3-0.
In the Round of 16, Croatia were finally supposed to win against Denmark. But not after Luka Modric missed a vital extra-time penalty. It was the type of horrible miss that should have doomed another World Cup campaign.
Modric was not supposed to recover to score his spot-kick in the penalty-shootout. Subasic was not supposed to make three wonderful saves. Rakitic was not supposed to convert the decisive penalty.
In the quarterfinals, Croatia’s run was supposed to come to an end against Russia after a Denis Cheryshev wonder goal put the hosts ahead. Andrej Kramaric was not supposed to equalize.
In extra-time, Croatia were not supposed to survive the period considering both their goalkeeper Subasic and striker Mandzukic were injured. A limping Subasic was not supposed to save a penalty. Rakitic again was not supposed to convert the decisive penalty.
Before the semi-final, Croatia’s best defender Sime Vrsalijko was supposed to be out of the game due to a knee injury. Domagoj Vida was not supposed to be played after making some controversial decisions.
After Kieran Tripper’s wonder goal, Croatia were not supposed to recover. Ivan Perisic was not supposed to play the game of his life. He was not supposed to karate kick the ball into the back of the net.
Mandzukic was not supposed to be on the pitch after being clattered by Jordan Pickford. He most definitely was not supposed to show up to hit the decisive goal and send England home.
Now Croatia are staying in Moscow for the World Cup final. They will play against a France team that have romped to the final, decisively defeating everyone in the path.
Croatia are not supposed to win. Tell that to this team.