MOSCOW, July 11 (Reuters) - Croatia’s strength of character will serve them well in the World Cup final against France, their coach and players said after they came from behind for the third straight knockout match to beat England on Wednesday.
The Croats, who play France on Sunday, fought back to beat England 2-1 after extra time, securing a first World Cup final appearance.
“It was a very difficult game for us,” said man of the match Ivan Perisic, who cancelled out Kieran Trippier’s early goal with a fine effort of his own.
Team mate Mario Mandzukic then struck in the 109th minute to complete their third straight comeback win.
“We knew what was at stake and how important the semi-final is for a small country like Croatia,” Perisic added. “We started slowly today but we showed our character and again came from a goal behind just like we did in the previous knockout rounds.”
Croatia were a goal down against Denmark in the last-16 as well as against Russia in the quarter-finals, before equalising and forcing extra time and penalty shootouts to advance.
Their victory on Wednesday propelled them a step further than they managed at the 1998 World Cup, when they lost to hosts France in the last four.
“Twenty years ago I was back at home in my hometown and I rooted for Croatia wearing the Croatia jersey. I could only dream of playing for my country and scoring one of the most important goals to reach the final,” Perisic said.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said their extra-time victory was deserved and his players were not yet finished despite playing a lot of football in the past three rounds.
“We deserved to reach the final. What the lads played tonight was fantasy, they’ve made history,” Dalic said. “We haven’t said our last word, there is still one more game to go. God willing, we will be world champions.” (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann Editing by Toby Davis)