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How World Cup Runner-Up Croatia Made it This Far

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The modern Croatian team was readmitted to FIFA in 1992 after gaining independence from Yugoslavia. Since its World Cup debut, Croatia has qualified for all but one World Cup tournament. This is the team’s second appearance in the semifinals, according to The New York Times.

At its World Cup debut in 1998, Croatia advanced to the semi-finals, where the team won the third-place consolation matchup. The result catapulted them from 125th to third place in FIFA’s worldwide rankings, and the team was styled Croatia’s golden generation.

In 2014, Croatia didn’t advance from the group stage at the last World Cup, partly as a result of a controversial loss to Brazil, the New York Times reports.

The team lost 3-1 in its first match to Brazil in a contest memorable for a penalty awarded to Brazil after a player went down with “little contact from a Croatian defender.”

Croatia completed a perfect 3-0 performance in the group round this year, beating Nigeria, 2-0, with an own goal and a penalty shot. Croatia defeated the Messi-led Argentinian squad by a stunning 3-0 margin and eliminated Iceland with a 2-1 victory in a final group game.

The team’s knockout match against Denmark was tied 1-1 after a pair of early strikes in the first four minutes of play, but after that, play remained very even before Croatia ultimately prevailed winning 3-2 on penalties.

In the quarterfinals Croatia ended Russia’s surprising run, winning 4-3 on penalties.

This year’s team is playing in the shadow of the 1998 squad, but that seems to inspire its players. As defender Vedran Corluka has said: “We are in the semifinal again, after 20 years. That is something special in our country.”

The dream came to an end though as the team lost to France in Sunday’s final. France’s World Cup win was the “supreme coronation” after the “hurt” of losing in the last European Championship final, coach Didier Deschamps said.

France beat Croatia 4-2 in Moscow to become world champions for the second time in their history, according to BBC News.

They lost 1-0 to Portugal in the final of Euro 2016, which they hosted.

“It’s a young team, who are on the top of the world. Some are champions at the age of 19,” said Deschamps, who captained France to glory in 1998.

The 49-year-old is just the third man–after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer–to win the competition as a player and coach.

He said the victory was “not about me”, adding: “It’s the players who won the game.”

By: Julian Howard

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