ZAGREB/MOSCOW, July 12 (Reuters) - Jubilant Croatian fans honked their car horns and let off fireworks after their soccer team beat England 2-1 in extra time on Wednesday to clinch a place in the World Cup finals against France.
Mario Mandzukic scored in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium giving the Balkan nation its first ever place in the finals in history, surprising even some fans with the result.
“We had hoped (for this) and we believed in our team, but the feeling when we finally entered the finals cannot be compared to anything,” said Ivan Kecerin, 41.
The country of around 4 million people came to a standstill as Croatians watched the game on screens in squares and cafes.
In Zagreb, the capital, more than 10,000 people gathered in the central square to watch the match despite rainy weather.
Loud cheers rang out after each goal, fans waved the red and white national flag, and after the final whistle Croatian TV showed wild celebrations breaking out in towns and cities.
In Moscow, Croatia fans said they were taken aback by their side’s win.
“We were planning to leave, but now we have to stay until Monday,” said Sinisa Pavlek, a Croatian living in Germany as he emerged from the stadium with a broad smile on his face.
Asked if Croatia could beat France in the final on Sunday, his girlfriend Marina said: “Of course. We beat England.”
Eric Amsalem, a 48-year-old Croatian fan with his face painted in the colours of the national flag said: “It’s a small country. You see what’s happening. Everybody has come. It’s the best feeling in a long time.” (Reporting by Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Christian Lowe in Moscow Writing by Tom Balmforth Editing by Andrew Osborn)