Croatia’s legs seemed heavy, burdened by the accumulated toll of consecutive penalty-kicks wins needed to get this far. England had gone ahead with a free kick just five minutes in, dominated play and appeared headed to its first World Cup final since 1966.
Then the second half started and it was as if a different Croatian team had replaced the lethargic one.
Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute, Mario Mandzukic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th and Croatia shocked England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday that advanced a nation of just over 4 million to a World Cup final against France.
“Mentally strong team,” midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “It’s just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way.”
When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white checkered jerseys. Croatia joined an exclusive club of 13 nations that has advanced to a World Cup final in a tournament where powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain made early exits.
“They’ve had an incredible route to the final. They’ve shown remarkable character,” said England coach Gareth Southgate, who for now will be remembered more for a fashionable waistcoat than ending a half-century of hurt.
France, which won its only title at home in 1998, will have an extra day of rest after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday.
Croatia, coming off 360 intense minutes of soccer’s highest level, faces its biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991.
Fans back home in Zagreb took to the streets to celebrate, lighting flares and waving flags in a sea of exuberance.
“We are a nation of people who never give in, who are proud and who have character,” said coach Zlatko Dalic, who wore a checkered jersey to his post-match news conference. “There’s no weakness in a team that is in the final.”
England was not among the top 10 in ticket sales before the tournament, but the team’s progress caused gallivanting supporters to flock to Moscow.
The front of the stands behind one goal was filled with more than two dozen white banners with a red Cross of St. George, pledging support from many of the island’s clubs, from Bradford City to Wolverhampton. Back home, a crowd of 30,000 was in London’s Hyde Park for a large-screen viewing, the British Beer and Pub Association predicted supporters would buy 10 million extra pints at pubs during the match and No.1 Court at Wimbledon was less than one-third full for the men’s quarterfinal match between John Isner and Milos Raonic.
Promise seemed about to be fulfilled when Kieran Trippier curled in a free kick in the fifth minute for his first international goal, above leaping Dejan Lovren and Mandzukic and past the desperate dive of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Choruses of “God Save the Queen” began in England’s end.
“We had a couple chances after that to get the second, give ourselves a bit more breathing room,” England captain Harry Kane said.
And Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko kept the score even nine minutes into extra time by clearing John Stones’ header off a corner just in front of the goal line. Croatia became the first team since Argentina beat Italy in 1990 to come from behind to win a World Cup semifinal match.
Football will not be coming home to England, and there will be no title to match the 1966 triumph at Wembley Stadium. Kane & Co. will deal with the same disappointment that felled Shearer and Platt, Gazza and Wazza, Beckham and Gerrard. And Southgate, whose penalty-kick failure led to England’s previous semifinal loss in a major tournament, in the 1996 European Championship semifinals.
“Impossible to say anything to them that is going to make them feel better at this point,” Southgate said after fourth straight loss in a major semifinal.
Croatia tied the score after Rakitic switched the ball from left flank to right, where Vrsaljko crossed. Kyle Walker attempted a diving header to clear. Perisic jumped and from behind raised his left boot over Walker’s head to poke the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from about 8 yards for his fourth goal in the tournament.
England had its moments to come back, but Lingard failed to connect with a Kane through ball in 78th, and Kane miss-hit a header off a free kick in stoppage time.
Mandzukic scored after Walker stuck out a leg to block Josip Pivaric’s cross. The ball popped up and Perisic outjumped Trippier to head the ball toward goal. Mandzukic alertly reacted to the unexpected ball in the penalty area, splitting defenders Stones and Harry Maguire, who had taken four short steps up. The ball bounced twice, Mandzukic ran onto it and one-timed a low, left-footed shot to Pickford’s left.
Mandzukic was mobbed by teammates, who jumped on him in the corner and trapped photographers under them in the crush.
Nation’s Soccer Star Tries the Nation’s Game
The US Women’s National Soccer Team captivated many on their run to a historic fourth World Cup victory. Behind the feet of Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, the squad had record setting 13-0 type of victories and nail biting 2-1 type of victories along the way and became a story of the summer in sports.
The success has created quite a buzz around the team. Leaders of the USWNT have been outspoken on social injustices, and not backed down when called out by politicians. Additionally, they have been involved in a law suit for several years now over equal compensation with their male counterparts. The popularity of the women on the team has soared, and resulted in several victory tour stops across America, both on the field and on parade routes. The most visible was in New York, which featured droves of fans crowding Manhattan streets and swarming the floats, and ultimately culminating in Megan Rapinoe’s inspirational victory speech.
But now, a USWNT player is eyeing, potentially, a new opportunity. On August 20th, the USWNT twitter profile sent out a video of forward Carli Lloyd hitting a 55-yard field goal at a Baltimore Ravens practice, on noticeably narrow goal posts (designed to make practicing harder than a game). The Philadelphia Eagles also tweeted out the video, confirming the 55-yard make and demonstrably impressed.
Lloyd has received an immense amount of positive feedback from folks around the league. She has commented that she’s “laughing about it, but the more [she] thinks about it, this has the chance to be a sort of a pioneering moment for women.”
“It could be a huge pivotal moment. There is no reason why a woman could not do this. And I actually invite the pressure. I love the pressure. When I have to nail something—shooting hoops, ax-throwing, kicking a field goal—that is the moment I live for and want. It comes down to the mind, training the mind.”
Lloyd commented that she has received some commentary from multiple NFL teams, we may see she (or another female soccer star) try it out one day.
While it may not be Lloyd, her pushing the gender line in the NFL is just the latest in a constant fight for equality out of the USWNT. As the representatives for a nation of “We the people,” no American national team has done as much to represent those people. While it sent shockwaves throughout the twitterverse, it is certainly not off brand for the USWNT to be pushing the present boundaries and speaking on equality.
MLS Star Uses Goal to Speak Out Against Gun Violence
The 48 hours of the weekend were as tough a weekend as any in recent American history. Two mass shooting, with a total toll of more than 30 lives, occurred within 13 hours of one another in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Americans faced a slew of emotions as they woke up each morning to tragic news in very different corners of our nation, none more so than the folks so directly impacted in both communities. Sadness, anger, and despair were just the tip of the iceberg for a nation that continues to see the stories of the weekend all too frequently.
Everyone mourns in their own way, and in the world of sport, most baseball stadiums, soccer stadiums, and basketball gyms took a moment of silence.
In Philadelphia, one man broke silence. Using the platform afforded to him by his talent, the Philadelphia Union captain and attackman Alejandro Bedoya swiftly scored with his right foot, off the left post and in from the front of the box, in the third minute of their match against DC United.
It was only Bedoya’s third goal of the season, and his eighth in his MLS career, but what happened afterwards will forever make it his most memorable.
Bedoya, a former member of the US Men’s National Team, celebrated by sprinting to the sideline, celebrating with family, then his teammates. Fairly standard when your family is in the front row.
But then, Bedoya broke from his teammates and methodically jogged over to a sideline microphone. As the commentators quieted down, Bedoya loudly, over the crowd noise, charged “Congress, do something, NOW! End gun violence, LET’S GO!”
Bedoya spiked the microphone, and sprinted back to the field. Philadelphia went on to win 5-1, further aided by Marco Fabian’s two goals, fueled by the energy displayed by their captain in the earliest stages of the match.
Needless to say, the moment was the most asked about thing after the match. Bedoya’s clip has gone viral, and the 32-year-old was composed and firm on his stance. “I’m a human being before anything, so I’ll never just stick to sports, and I never have…. fine me if they want. I’ve got to take a stand.”
Soccer has become an American sport of activism this summer. Megan Rapinoe led the US Women’s National Team to gold both on and off the field in the World Cup this summer, and was constantly questioned about her firm stance against the White House.
Further, the team has been a pillar in the fight for women’s rights in the work place, most notably with their ongoing law suit against US Soccer for gender discrimination in their pay.
Alejandro Bedoya, an American born to former Colombian Adriano Bedoya and raised in South Florida. South Florida saw its own version of this American tragedy just under 18 months ago, when Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was the victim of a mass shooting that saw 17 students and faculty members die.
While Bedoya said he is prepared for any fine the MLS offers him, this morning Major League Soccer has said they will not issue any punishments. The League’s official statement was “The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue.”
The MLS heard Bedoya and understood. The next looming question is, who else did?
James Harden Buys Stakes in Houston Dynamo
The summer of 2019, in NBA History books, will forever go down as the summer of changing teams. Nearly 40% of returning NBA players are on new rosters, and several of those players have multiple All NBA selections on their resumes. Stars shifting seems to be status quo in the modern NBA… With one bearded exception.
James Harden has recently purchased shares of the Houston Dynamo (MLS) and Dash (NWSL). In speaking on the matter, Harden spoke of Houston as his hometown, and stated several times that he is in Houston for the long haul. Buying into the ownership of local sports franchises seems to indicate a serious investment in just that.
Harden has, for those paying attention, been a soccer fan for a while. In off seasons past, he has spent vacation time with European professional soccer stars like Paul Pogba, Kaka, and Neymar. More recently, Harden took a trip to Emirates Stadium in London to go behind the scenes and watch Arsenal play. The club gave Harden a customized kit (read: uniform) and let him explore the empty facilities early on the matchday.
Harden is one of Adidas’ highest paid basketball players, and Adidas is involved in many pro soccer clubs, including both Houston teams and Arsenal. While Harden’s court vision can remind fans of the beautiful game, Houstonians can rest easy in that the Beard wants to make those passes in Rockets’ red. The lefty made one thing clear in his purchase: he’s invested in staying in Houston for the long haul.
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