In 1998, taking part in their first World Cup as an independent nation, Croatia went on a dream run to the semi-finals where they lost 2-1 to eventual winners France. Twenty years later, and the tiny nation of four million people is back.
Back in the semis and with a chance to head to the finals with its promise of a chance at revenge against France for 1998. England fans may be excited about tonight’s match, but they aren’t the only ones dreaming of making history.
“I can only imagine the atmosphere in England, but the Croatian people also expect much from this game,” Dejan Lovren said as the defender, who has been key to Croatia’s deep run here at Russia 2018, spoke to the press ahead of the match.
“It will be tough. I’ve met many England internationals in Premiership matches, and we are aware of their qualities. We fully respect Kane, but he is not the only threat. Croatia, on the other hand, does not want to stop here—we want to achieve more.”
After that historic first appearance in 1998, Croatia failed to advance from the group stage in 2002, 2006, and 2014. They didn’t quality at all in 2010. Dark horses at best here in 2018, nobody, really, expected them to get to the semi-finals.
Especially after disappointment at the last Euros, the in-fighting in the squad and conflict between players and former manager Ante Čačić—now replaced by Zlatko Dalić—and the spectre of tax fraud investigation surrounding many of the players.
“The manager believes in us—he did so when few others did—and we will do the best we can,” Lovren added of their unlikely, potentially historic run. “The Croatian people never had it easy, and we want to bring them some joy, including a medal.
“We’ve had a chance to recover from two tough, long matches. When the stakes are this high, nobody is tired. It’s once in a lifetime opportunity.”