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Croatia Needs to Get Out of the Way

July 11th, 2018 · 1 Comment · English Premier League, Fifa, Football, France, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

I have no personal beefs with Croatia.

I was there once, for part of a day, as a member of the U.S. journalists’ traveling party heading for the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, in 1984.

We flew from New York to Zagreb, and then organizers put us on buses to downtown Zagreb, where we were seated at a white-table-cloth restaurant in a fine old hotel that no doubt dated back to the Habsburgs.

Zagreb was dark and dreary, and dirty snow was in the gutters, but this was February 1984, and we didn’t expect much more from the place.  Zagreb and the rest of Croatia were part of Yugoslavia, at the time; the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

My recollection is that we had a fine lunch. (And also were under-dressed.) Then we were taken to the Zagreb train station to pick up “the Olympic Express”, which was to take us the final few hours to Sarajevo.

I don’t think it was the fault of Croatia that the train was hours and hours late, and that the waiting room sat about 12 people, all of whom were chain-smoking locals, and the journalists were forced to pace the platform to stay warm/alive. A train did show up, eventually, but many of my colleagues were stinking drunk by then and comported themselves with less dignity than usual, and perhaps we were lucky the authorities in Zagreb had not swept up all of us till everyone was sober again.

So, no. No real issues with Croatia. In fact, I would like to see Dubrovnik some day.

All I want from Croatia … is to see them go out of the World Cup tonight in their semifinal match with England.

This is a classic case of what the denizens of Planet Soccer would like to see. And it most certainly is not France versus Croatia in the Russia 2018 final on Sunday.

No.

You, me, and every soccer fan who does not salute a flag that looks like the table cloth from an Italian restaurant … wants an England-France final.

This is so obvious. France-England … that’s box office! It’s two of the great names of the sport.

It is countries who have been rivals for a thousand years. Some Frenchmen conquered England in 1066, and then England took possession of large swathes of (what is now) France from about 1100 till 1500. The two of them pretty much divided up the world during the colonial period.

And back to soccer. France has been one of the 2018 favorites all along. The French have more good players than they can get into a lineup, led by Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, N’Golo Kante, Hugo Lloris …

They won their place in the final by throttling Belgium last night. It was not pretty, but it was ruthless and effective; France scored on a  header off a corner and then “parked the bus” with all 11 of their players spending long tracts of time in the defensive half — leading to a misleading time-of-possession statistic. (Belgium, 64 percent.)

But, under the right circumstances, France can go all athletic on us (generally, if they fall behind), dashing up and down the pitch and threaten to score several times. Mbappe might be the fastest man in the tournament.

As for England, and this is hard to imagine, but they have been the lovable underdog for their past four games. Young, earnest, well-behaved, almost attractive. Even their fans seem less obnoxious.

Harry Kane at the top of the attack, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard dashing about, Kieran Trippier on the wing, taking most of the restarts, John Stones and the hulking Harry Maguire in the back, shootout hero Jordan Pickford in goal.

Fans know these guys. They play in the Premier League and everyone watches the Premier League. From China to Chile to Canada.

They even know their coaches. France’s white-haired Didier Deschamps, a hero of the 1998 World Cup champions, plotting ways to take the air out of the ball. England’s self-effacing Gareth Southgate, wearing his vest and tie; leading the way for a soccer nation that too often over-promised and under-delivered … which now has it the other way round. Charmingly.

And then there is this: Soccer history. England, masters of the game. They probably invented it, and certainly codified it and took it around the world. Meanwhile, it was a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, who led the way for the quadrennial global tournament now known as the World Cup.

These teams are meant to meet. They have to meet. We cannot miss this opportunity.

Croatia needs to just get out of the way. A couple of well-known midfielders is not enough to recommend Hrvatska in the final.

Getting to the semifinals with a pair of shootout victories … that’s a very nice World Cup for a small country that has existed only since 1991.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are not enough to tantalize us.

For the big finish of perhaps the greatest World Cup … there is only one possible matchup: France and England.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Evans // Jul 11, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Might want to call Dodgers-Yankees World Series now — you’re on a roll!

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