MOSCOW (Reuters) - 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 on Wednesday.
The Croats, who play France on 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 today 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-finals, before equalising and forcing extra time and penalty shootouts.
Their victory on 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.
“Today 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 on 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 tonight 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 champions.
“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.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann,; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond