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ZAGREB, July 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Hundreds of thousands of Croats in red and white chequered soccer shirts and scarves poured onto the streets of the capital Zagreb to welcome home the national team and celebrate their run to the World Cup final in Russia.

Croatia achieved their best-ever result in the tournament in losing Sunday's match to France, surpassing the third place finish of 1998. “They lost the final, but won the world,” was how daily newspaper Jutarnji List summed up the mood.

The celebration was broadcast live from the moment the team's plane ― escorted by two fighter jets once inside Croatian air space ― neared Zagreb airport.

Water cannons created a glistening arch that the plane taxied through, and a red carpet was rolled out for the players.

The team rode an open-topped bus towards the city centre through streets swamped with cheering crowds.

After an almost six-hour ride the bus reached Zagreb's central square, where more than 100,000 people had gathered under a sea of welcome banners and national flags.

“Marry me, Rebic”, read one, a supersized proposal to striker Ante Rebic.

Cheering erupted as he and his team-mates went up the makeshift stage one by one and addressed the crowd.

“Thanks for recognising that we played our hearts in Russia,” Croatia full-back Sime Vrsaljko said.

“The guys wore the Croatian jerseys with pride and you were the best supporters in the world,” added coach Zlatko Dalic.

In all, around half a million people took to the streets to welcome the team, state news agency Hina said ― better that one in ten of the small Balkan nation's 4 million population.

“We must use this opportunity to build, improve our soccer infrastructure and try to be even better,” said Robert Prosinecki, the midfield star of the 1998 team.

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic told his players they should be proud of their sensational World Cup run and their performance in the final Sunday night despite losing 4-2 to France at the Luzhniki Stadium.

The Croatia players were given a standing ovation by their fans after taking the game to the French for the entire 90 minutes, dominating much of the match but falling to an own goal, a penalty awarded by VAR and two second-half strikes.

The 51-year-old gathered his players in a circle on the pitch and told them they should in no way consider the defeat a failure.

“Of course, we are downcast, but I told them ‘hold your heads up high. You have no reason to feel dissatisfied, you have given your all and you have to be proud of your performances at this tournament’,” he told a news conference.


“‘Chin up lads, if somebody had offered us to be runners-up at the start of the tournament, that would have been fantastic’.

“‘Sometimes in football you lose, that’s football, but we were dignified in our victories and we must be dignified in defeat, we have to respect the scoreline,’ that was the message to my players.”

The Croatians had come back from a goal down in their previous three games, slogged their way through six periods of extra time and two penalty shootouts to get to the final — playing the equivalent of an entire match more than France.

They again came from behind last night when Ivan Perisic fired home an angled shot in the first half but they were 4-1 down when Mario Mandzukic punished a mistake by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 69th minute to make amends for his early own goal.

Dalic thought the 18th minute own goal and the France penalty, awarded seven minutes before halftime for a Perisic handball after the referee viewed the TV footage, had been the turning points.

“I don’t talk about referees but let me say this one thing: In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty,” he said.

“But that in no way diminishes France’s win. Maybe we were a bit unlucky, in the first six games we were favoured by luck.

“It was maybe the best game we played in the tournament but... against a quality team like France, you cannot let in four goals.”

Dalic said he thought overall VAR was good for the game. “Don’t take this as me a saying something bad about the referee,” he added.

“I respect the referee, he made the decision he thought was right. On VAR, when it goes in your favour it’s good, when it goes against you it’s bad.”

Dalic, who took up the national team reins only nine months ago when it looked like Croatia might not qualify for the World Cup, said he was going to take some time to consider his future.

“It was beautiful working with the lads (but) I never make decisions overnight,” he said. “At this moment I’m not thinking about anything but getting safely home to Croatia.”

Dalic said the success of a team representing a country of only four million people showed what could be done with a dream and lots of hard work.

“I’m proud of my players, I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my country,” he concluded, leaving the press conference room to a round of applause.

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia captain Luka Modric said being awarded the Golden Ball for the World Cup’s best player was “bittersweet” after losing the final 4-2 to France Sunday night.

“Obviously I liked the recognition and thanks to those who chose me, but clearly I would have preferred to have won the World Cup,” said the Real Madrid midfielder.

“It wasn’t to be and now we will rest and in the coming days celebrate this because it is still a huge thing for Croatia, but right now the feeling is bittersweet.

“We are proud of what we have done, but a bit sad at losing the final.”

Despite being forced into extra-time in all three of their knockout rounds before the final, Croatia dominated the opening period and were desperately unlucky to trail 2-1 at half-time through Mario Mandzukic’s own goal and a controversial Antoine Griezmann penalty.

The smallest country to make a World Cup final in 68 years, with a population of just over four million, finally wilted after the break as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe added to France’s lead before Mandzukic pulled a goal back.

“Although I think we deserved more, we can’t change anything,” added Modric. “We can only be proud of what we did — we never gave up and fought until the end.”

With the score at 1-1, France were awarded a penalty after Argentine referee Nestor Pitana reviewed video footage of an Ivan Perisic handball.

Croatia were doubly frustrated by Pitana’s decision as France’s opener also came from a dubious free-kick.

“The small details went in favour of France. It is a shame because I think we were very, very good and deserved to win,” said Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

“It is a shame that they didn’t review the foul before the first goal and only the one that went against us.

“The foul for the first goal is clearly not a foul, the penalty is very, very dubious... it hurts a lot to lose like this.”

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic insisted VAR was a “good thing” for football despite Pitana’s call going against his side.

But Rakitic believes improvements can still be made to the system that was being used in the World Cup for the first time.

“I understand they want to improve things with VAR, but there is still margin for improvement,” he added. “It has helped a lot but it is still not perfect.”

 

MOSCOW, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) -  France is the 2018 World Cup champion. A tournament full of surprises concluded with an expected result, as the heavily favored French national team beat Croatia 4–2 in Moscow on Sunday. France went into halftime with a 2–1 lead thanks to an own goal and a VAR-awarded penalty, but the champions’ talent proved undeniable as the game wore on.

Striker Kylian Mbappé wasn’t alive for France’s last World Cup triumph, in 1998, but the 19-year-old superstar made quite a mark on this year’s tournament. His blistering strike in the 65th minute gave France a 4–1 lead and helped put away a resilient Croatian team for good.

France led 2-1 at halftime after a Mario Mandzukic own goal and an Antoine Griezmann VAR penalty, with Ivan Perisic briefly bringing first-time finalists Croatia level.

Quickfire strikes by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe midway through the second half put France on course for the title but Mandzukic was gifted a goal by French keeper Hugo Lloris to set up a nervous last 20 minutes.

France, however, withstood a spirited Croatia assault to lift the trophy for the second time, following their success on home soil 20 years ago, and ensure there was no repeat of two years ago when they were beaten in the European Championship final by Portugal in Paris.

The victory means that Didier Deschamps, captain of the 1998 side, becomes the third man to win the World Cup as player and coach after Brazil's Mario Zagallo and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer.

It was the highest-scoring final since England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in 1966 and the highest in normal time since Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 60 years ago. The landmarks came thick and fast in the first half too.

Croatia had started full of energy but fell behind when Mandzukic, who scored the extra-time winner against England in the semi-final, became the first man to score an own goal in a World Cup final when a Griezmann free kick skidded in off his head in the 18th minute. It was the 12th own goal of the tournament.

That meant it was the fourth successive knockout game that Croatia had conceded first but Perisic, who got the equaliser against England, was on hand again to level the scores 10 minutes later, smashing in a low shot after Sime Vrsaljko had headed Luka Modric's free kick across the box.

But it was then Perisic's turn go from hero to zero when he flapped an arm at a corner and, after a VAR review, Argentine referee Nestor Pitana awarded the 28th penalty of the tournament, another record, which Griezmann stroked home in the 38th minute for his fourth goal of Russia 2018.

That made it the highest-scoring first half since 1974, when West Germany led the Netherlands 2-1 - also the final score then.

It was harsh on Croatia, who had made most of the running, and they were on top again after the break, continually winning their one-on-one duels in the air and in every tackle and forging forward in the French box with plenty of variety.

But France's defence, so impressive all tournament, held and they went 3-1 up on the hour as Mbappe and Griezmann combined to set up Pogba on the edge of the box. His right-footed shot was blocked but he coolly curved the rebound in with his left.

After three successive extra-time knockout games the chances of another Croatian comeback seemed slight but they looked dead and buried six minutes later. Lucas Hernandez tore down the left to set up Mbappe who drilled a low shot beyond keeper Danijel Subasic for the 19-year-old's fourth goal of the tournament.

An awful blunder by Lloris revived Croatia, as the French keeper tried to dribble around Mandzukic only for the striker to tap the ball straight into an unguarded net.

Croatia, beaten by the French in the semi-finals in their first World Cup appearance in 1998, continued to press but their energy was sapped and France safely held out for the victory.

MOSCOW, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) - France won the World Cup for the second time by ending battling Croatia’s dream of a first title with a 4-2 victory on Sunday in one of the most entertaining and action-packed finals for decades.

France led 2-1 at halftime after a Mario Mandzukic own goal and an Antoine Griezmann VAR penalty, with Ivan Perisic briefly bringing first-time finalists Croatia level.

Quickfire strikes by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe midway through the second half put France on course for the title but Mandzukic was gifted a goal by French keeper Hugo Lloris to set up a nervous last 20 minutes.

France, however, withstood a spirited Croatia assault to lift the trophy for the second time, following their success on home soil 20 years ago, and ensure there was no repeat of two years ago when they were beaten in the European Championship final by Portugal in Paris.

The victory means that Didier Deschamps, captain of the 1998 side, becomes the third man to win the World Cup as player and coach after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.

It was the highest-scoring final since England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in 1966 and the highest in normal time since Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 60 years ago.

The landmarks came thick and fast in the first half too.

Croatia had started full of energy but fell behind when Mandzukic, who scored the extra-time winner against England in the semi-final, became the first man to score an own goal in a World Cup final when a Griezmann free kick skidded in off his head in the 18th minute. It was the 12th own goal of the tournament.

That meant it was the fourth successive knockout game that Croatia had conceded first but Perisic, who got the equalizer against England, was on hand again to level the scores 10 minutes later, smashing in a low shot after Sime Vrsaljko had headed Luka Modric’s free kick across the box.

But it was then Perisic’s turn go from hero to zero when he flapped an arm at a corner and, after a VAR review, Argentine referee Nestor Pitana awarded the 28th penalty of the tournament, another record, which Griezmann stroked home in the 38th minute for his fourth goal of Russia 2018.

That made it the highest-scoring first half since 1974, when West Germany led the Netherlands 2-1 - also the final score then.

It was harsh on Croatia, who had made most of the running, and they were on top again after the break, continually winning their one-on-one duels in the air and in every tackle and forging forward in the French box with plenty of variety.

But France’s defense, so impressive all tournament, held and they went 3-1 up on the hour as Mbappe and Griezmann combined to set up Pogba on the edge of the box. His right-footed shot was blocked but he coolly curved the rebound in with his left.

After three successive extra-time knockout games the chances of another Croatian comeback seemed slight but they looked dead and buried six minutes later. Lucas Hernandez tore down the left to set up Mbappe who drilled a low shot beyond keeper Danijel Subasic for the 19-year-old’s fourth goal of the tournament.

An awful blunder by Lloris revived Croatia, as the French keeper tried to dribble around Mandzukic only for the striker to tap the ball straight into an unguarded net.

Croatia, beaten by the French in the semi-finals in their first World Cup appearance in 1998, continued to press but their energy was sapped and France safely held out for the victory. 

MOSCOW, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) - France overwhelmed Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium today to lift the trophy for the second time in 20 years.

The French, playing their third World Cup final, were made to sweat initially and were lucky to go ahead when Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic headed an Antoine Griezmann free kick into his own net in the 18th minute, the first own goal in a World Cup final.

Ivan Perisic levelled with a powerful shot 10 minutes later but the Croatia midfielder was then penalised for handball following a VAR review and Griezmann stepped up coolly to convert the 38th-minute penalty and put France 2-1 up.

Croatia fought hard for an hour but gradually ran out of steam after playing extra time in their three previous matches, and goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe gave France a three-goal cushion.

Mandzukic pounced on a mistake by France keeper Hugo Lloris to cut the deficit in the 69th minute, making it the highest-scoring final over 90 minutes in 60 years, but Croatia could not find the net again in their first World Cup final.



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