Tuesday 4 December 2018

Putting my life in the hands of a crocks 'n' old band - Croatia v Russia, World Cup quarter final

I was in and out of the kitchen, between programmes or making tea, keeping tabs on the remaining quarter final, Croatia-Russia, that was open on my laptop, next to the hob.

A goal for Russia just after half an hour seemed to add another crack to my world falling in. The goal was impressive, and perhaps should have served as encouragement, suggesting that Denis Cheryshev could do that to England next, but it still felt like only Croatia could save me. If Russia won, I could only see them playing the well-worn role of hosts who'd failed just one step away from reaching a fairy-tale final, like Italy in 1990, South Korea in 2002, Germany in 2006, Brazil in 2014. Are Russia the worst of all those thwarted teams? South Korea might have a case to argue, but I don't know if there's much in it.

So if Russia were beating Croatia, what was I actually hoping for in Croatia? They'd only just scraped past Denmark, and now they were behind again.

Even when Croatia equalised just eight minutes later, I was merely reminded that the scorer, Andrej Kramaric, was rejected by a Leicester City team that had just avoided relegation to the Championship (he left early into 2015-16, and I can't quite recall how Leicester got on without him, but seem to think they did alright).

Like Spain in the previous round, Croatia couldn't find a way past their limited opponents in the 90 minutes. Luka Modric, 32, who's played to the very last game of the European club season for the last three, seemed to spend the entire second half with his hands on his knees. Goalkeeper Subasic punched the ground in agony during extra time, clutching his hamstring and giving over goal kick duty. Atletico Madrid defender, Vrsalijko, was forced off injured in the first half of extra time. I rubbed my forehead like Messi during the Argentine national anthem.

I was still happy to see Croatia go ahead in that first half of the additional thirty minutes. Yes, the corner was headed in by Domagoj Vida of Turkish side, Besiktas, but I was moved to pull out the decisive football fan tactic of turning the match off, knowing that this would definitely end the scoring.

When I read one of the reports of Croatia's win later that night, I learned that they had achieved it via a penalty shoot-out. Maria Figueira Hernandes had turned in a free kick five minutes before the end of extra time, allowing himself the opportunity to miss the goal completely in the shoot-out. Just as against Denmark, Rakitic rifled in the winning penalty. So at least they are well-practiced for the traditional post 1966 semi-final England story.

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