Tears and cries of joy, hugs and chants, firecrackers and flares — Croatia was on fire late Wednesday after their victory against England set up a first ever appearance in a World Cup final.
“Croatia in World Cup finals! It is so beautiful! Miracle of all miracles in Russia!” the state-run HRT television commentator Drago Cosic shouted ecstatically.
Croatia beat England 2-1 in extra-time thanks to a Mario Mandzukic goal in the second period of extra-time to book a date with France in Moscow on Sunday.
Thousands of fans gathered at the country’s largest fan zone in Zagreb’s main square, braving intermittent rain to cheer on the “Fiery Ones” (Vatreni) on a giant screen.
“We can be proud and happy … we don’t want to stop here,” Croatia’s star player Luka Modric told HRT
– ‘Like lions –
“Only great teams can be so courageous and make a comeback afer trailing 1-0 against England,” Mandzukic said.
“We were losing and we returned, we were like lions.”
Local media praised the players as heroes.
“Perisic and Mandzukic heroes — Miraculous Croatia shocks England and makes it to the World Cup final for first time in history!” said the Tportal website.
“Dalic’s team played another dramatic match and with a new miraculous victory made its fans proud again!”
“Bravo! Everyone should celebrate … Dalic’s Fiery Ones achieved the biggest success in Croatian football history!,” commented Sportske Novosti paper online
“We brought down the English! Croatia is in World Cup final! Bravo our heroes, bravo! Deep bow!,” said the Vecernji List paper online.
– ‘Highly emotional evening’ –
The paper noted that in a “drama of extra-time Croatia beat England and on Sunday it will decide with France who plays the best football on the planet.
“Well, that’s Croatia, don’t have any doubt about it.”
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of fans throughout the country, from the northen port of Rijeka to Dubrovnik in the south, or in the eastern city Osijek, celebrated the victory on the streets and squares, singing popular fans songs and waving Croatia red-white-blue flags.
“This is a highly emotional evening! I’m so proud, a big victory for all of us!” said Fran Kulic, 23, celebrating with friends in downtown Zagreb.
Milena Bacic, a 36-year-old teacher, dressed in red-and-white jersey with Modric’s name was dancing with her friends and said she intended to “party till dawn”.
“Play my Croatia, when I see you my heart is on fire!,” a popular song was played all day long on radio stations while waiters, shop workers, TV presenters and nurses donned red-and-white jerseys.
Some stores closed early to enable employees to watch the match, with various concerts, plays and cinema screenings cancelled.
For the past few weeks Modric’s side have been feted as national heroes for their run to the last four in Russia.
They matched the feat of their predecessors in 1998 who reached the semi-finals in the country’s first World Cup as an independent nation.
But on Wednesday night Dalic’s players did even better, securing a historic first World Cup final for the country of about four million people.