SOCHI, Russia: They’ve gone 120 minutes twice in a week. They have endured the emotional tugs of two penalty shootouts, somehow coming out on top on both occasions, the first team since 1990 to do so at a World Cup. They’re dealing with injuries to their starting right back, their goalkeeper and a handful of other players who could probably use a week in the ice bath.
There’s no way Croatia is going to have any juice left in the tank for England in the World Cup semifinals, right?
“Of course there’s power left for the English,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “We don’t want to stop. We want to play our best game then.”
What kind of recovery Croatia can muster over the next three days may ultimately determine if it has a chance of taking out England and reaching the World Cup final for the first time when the sides meet in the semifinals on Wednesday night in Moscow.
Yes, Croatia may have one of the best individual players in the tournament with what Luka Modric has done in matching the deepest run ever by the country. But Croatia is also exhausted. Physically. Mentally.
There’s no way they couldn’t be after ousting Denmark on penalties in the round of 16, then being forced to extra time again by host Russia on Saturday night. Just before midnight local time, Ivan Rakitic’s winning penalty ignited yet another celebration that was a mix of excitement and relief.
The team and the country are riding a wave of adrenaline in matching the 1998 Croatian team and reaching the semis. At some point, that wave could crash.
“At certain times we lacked power but we played two times 120 minutes of football in six days,” Modric said. “Of course this will leave a mark on you. You have to pay the toll for such exertions. But thank God we’ve shown our character.”
The emotions were such that Dalic broke down in tears on the sideline after Rakitic’s winning penalty.
“It came bursting out of me. I felt really relieved,” Dalic said. “We made ourselves happy but we also made everybody back home in Croatia happy. Those emotions just burst out of me. I don’t cry often, but I have a good reason.”
The team was traveling from Sochi to Moscow on Sunday to set up camp for two days of training ahead of the semifinal. The most immediate worry appears to be starting right back Sime Vrsaljko, who had to be replaced during extra time, walking slowly off the field with an apparent leg injury.
There’s also some concern about goalkeeper Danijel Subasic after he required treatment late in the second half and during any breaks through extra time and the shootout after appearing to injure his right hamstring.
A number of other Croatia players were receiving massages and stretching of their legs before extra time and before the shootout. The unique elements of playing in Sochi with the combination of heat and humidity sapped energy from both teams, creating a fairly lethargic second half. Numerous Croatia players said arriving in Sochi immediately after the round of 16 win over Denmark was a major benefit, but now are facing a rapid recovery.
“It will be difficult,” defender Dejan Lovren said. “Hopefully our right-back Sime Vrsaljko is not so injured like he thinks, so hopefully we can manage. But we have a lot of good players on the bench who showed they can change the rhythm of the game.” —AP