Croatia and France celebrate victories in their respective semi-final matches at the World Cup.

(Associated Press photos)

Croatia Reaches 1st World Cup Final, France Awaits

France will look for redemption after losing its last two major finals in a date with the never-say-die Croatian team.

July 11, 2018 - 4:27 pm
Categories: 

MOSCOW (AP) — When the final whistle blew, they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their exuberant fans, jumping in their iconic red-and-white checkered jerseys.

Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute and Croatia shocked England 2-1 Wednesday. It was the third match in a row for Croatia that has gone into extra time. The previous two wins went the distance and needed to be decided in penalty shoot outs. 

Croatia, the first team in 28 years to come from behind to win a World Cup semifinal match, will play France for the title on Sunday in its biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991.

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 will be coming off its third straight extra-time match.

Defender Sime Vrsaljko kept the score even by heading a shot off the goal line about 10 minutes before Mandzukic scored.

Kevin Trippier curled in a free kick for England in the fifth minute. Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute.

But football will not be coming home, and there will be no title to match the 1966 triumph at Wembley Stadium. Harry Kane & Co. will deal with the same disappointment that felled Shearer and Platt, Gazza and Wazza, Beckham and Gerrard.

Vive la France

They're young, they're brash and they're collectively worth a billion dollars. The one thing missing for this French squad is an international title.

Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and France are about to get that chance.

Les Bleus are headed to the World Cup final.

Samuel Umtiti clinched a 1-0 win over Belgium — and earned the approval of watching French President Emmanuel Macron in the VIP seats at St. Petersburg Stadium — by scoring on a header off a corner kick in the 51st minute on Tuesday.

"Vive la France! Vive la Republique!" France forward Antoine Griezmann shouted during postgame celebrations.

Umtiti played his part in a strong defensive effort by the French, too, helping to shut out the highest-scoring team at the tournament and leaving Belgium's golden generation of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to regret another missed opportunity at a major tournament.

"It's me that scored," Umtiti said, "but we all delivered a big game."

France's players danced on the field after the final whistle and their fans sang in the stands long past the end of the match, surrounded by yellow-clad security.

They have a shot at redemption after losing its last two major finals — at the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane was sent off for a nasty head-butt and the 2016 European Championship on home soil.