England had hope, Croatia had a dream…and a plan…and it was enough to put the Balkans into a famous World Cup final against France 


Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Moscow

England had the rarest opportunity of choosing its path to history. They fell even before the last lap.

Tunisia, Panama, Belgium, Colombia sans James Rodriguez, Sweden and Croatia – The three lions played these six matches in the 2018 World Cup. They lost to Belgium and Croatia. Diego Maradona had pointed a few refereeing errors in the Colombia match for which he was rebuked by FIFA and the Argentine legend had stopped talking about refereeing since that match.

There was not the usual hype with this English side of Gareth Southgate because of the lack of a star like David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. They had a relatively young side. They were drawn into a group where they had to play Tunisia and Panama. That cannot be their fault! And then they had chosen the easiest route to reach the final but they could not. But they reached the semifinals which their star-studded generation of footballers could not reach. An achievement, definitely.

Soon after their elimination, Wayne Rooney tweeted, “Gutted. A massive well done to all the lads who have done all of us proud, keep your heads held high. This is a great young team with a big future.”

Probably ‘bringing it home’ was a bit premature campaign that gained momentum in British media too early, without analyzing the strengths of the oppositions the team faced in the tournament. There was a sense of over-achievement already when they reached the last four stages after 28 years.

Alan Shearer was there among the accredited journalists who did not have a desk. The BBC pundit jumped in joy when Kieran Trippier scored from a brilliant free-kick within the first five minutes of the semifinal of a World Cup. He continued clapping for a minute or so, as the normal fans did. When they stopped the celebration, he too. At the end, he was as sad as anyone from England. The frustrations could be seen as his expressions changed time to time. Numerous requests for interviews were sternly rejected at the very first opportunity. But how can you hide your emotions when your country was so close to a World Cup final, a dream for 52 years!

Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker. Image Courtesy: Kashinath

Croatia had a bigger dream. That led them to the final. Playing 360 minutes of competitive football with the agony of two back-to-back tiebreakers and winning is no mean achievement. No other team had fought so much for their victories in this World Cup than them.

After their victory in the quarterfinal, Luka Modric said that the team would be looking to go a step further than their predecessors. No arrogance, no boasting. A plain and simple dream of being in the World Cup final for the first time, something the Sukers, the Bobans, the Bilices and the Prosineckis could not achieve in their debut 1998 edition in France.

20 years ago, they were eliminated in the semis by France. In 2018, they will have the same opponent to beat to cross another barrier and lift the Cup of joy.


Come Sunday, if they can do so, the World Cup in Russia will see the emergence of the new LM10 who will leave the original one far behind in terms of success in the quadrennial tournament.

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