Once every four years, just as the Winter Olympics are held, the FIFA World Cup occurs. For some countries, the World Cup is an even larger event than the Olympics. This year the World Cup is being hosted by Russia. The semifinals took place July 10, between France and Belgium, and July 11, between England and Croatia, with each winner moving on to play in the finals July 15.
Since the Round of 16 began June 30, there have been four games up until the semifinals that have ended in draws after regulation time, forcing penalty kicks to decide the winner. Croatia has been a part of two of these four. The first occurred July 1 against Denmark.
It was an incredible matchup with a win securing a spot in the quarterfinals. Denmark attacked first right as play began in the first minute to score, 1-0. This was an opening that shocked everyone, even the announcers, and brought the crowd to a roar.
Croatia then gained possession, and after a missed pass across the field that bounced off two Danish defenders, Mario Mandzukic of Croatia kicked the ball under the feet of a defender and the goalkeeper to tie the game 1-1.
The game remained tied until the end of regular time, forcing the teams to play two more 15-minute periods. When the teams were still tied by the end of the extra 30 minutes of play, the game went to penalty kicks. The viewers were now on the edge of their seats as each team would send five players to the penalty line, with the most shots made of the five determining the winner.
Denmark shot first but the Croatian goalkeeper had an amazing save. Croatia then missed their opening shot as well.
Both teams made their second and third shots, but missed the fourth shots, leaving the teams 2-2 on penalty kicks with only one remaining.
Denmark then missed, which meant that Croatia would need to make their final shot to win the game. Ivan Rakitic was the final penalty kicker in the Croatian lineup. With an easy shot, he fooled the Danish goalkeeper and made the goal.
Croatia then moved on to the quarterfinals where they faced the home team Russia. This game also ended in a draw 2-2 in regular time forcing penalty kicks for the teams and another 120-minute game for Croatia. Croatia won on penalty kicks again, but this time 4-3, knocking out Russia.
They then moved on to play England in the semifinals July 11. This one was a game for the ages. It went to extra time and ended in a Croatia win, 2-1.
As seen in their previous games, Croatia has come out on top under pressure from the other team. After trailing after the first half 1-0, Croatia knew it would take something special to bring them back into the game with a fighting chance for the finals.
In the 68th minute, Ivan Perisic hit a header right past England’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to tie the game after England had lead by one for over an hour.
This gave the Croatians some extra hope that they were still in this game with a chance to win. They had found themselves in this same situation many times before. By the end of the 90 minutes plus stoppage time, the teams were still tied.
Then 19 minutes into extra time, Mario Mandzukic scored an incredible goal to the corner of the net right past the goalie’s fingertips. Croatia was up 2-1 with only 11 minutes left for England to tie or Croatia to send England home.
By the end of extra time, it looked as if England was running out of time. After another game that went to 120 minutes, Croatia came away with the win and will move on to the finals game for the first time.
On the other side of the bracket, Uruguay knocked out Portugal keeping Cristiano Ronaldo out of the quarterfinals. Argentina put up a good fight against France, but France’s Kylian Mbappe, at just 19 years old, had two goals in the second half.
The first goal came in the 64th minute, which just barely skimmed past the Argentine goalkeeper. Mbappe came back with a strong drive right by all of the Argentine defenders for a clean shot in the 68th minute to put France up 4-2. A final goal from Argentina in stoppage time after the 90 minutes had passed wasn’t enough, and France moved on to the quarterfinals.
Uruguay and France faced off in the quarterfinals, but Uruguay was held scoreless. France possessed the ball for over half of the game and passed with an accuracy of 80 percent.
Brazil had defeated Mexico in the Round of 16, 2-0, and Belgium had come away with a win against Japan 3-2. Brazil and Belgium faced off in the quarterfinals, and Belgium knocked out the final South American team in the World Cup to move onto the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Belgium was one of the favorites to move on to the finals but would have a tough matchup with France to get there.
With Belgium controlling most of the possession, France was forced to play defense for a majority of the game. However, they seemed fully up to the challenge and didn’t let Belgium score a single goal.
France came away with the win 1-0, making this Belgium’s first loss since September 2016. France have now reached their third World Cup final since 1998; more than any other nation in that time. France and Croatia will now compete in the finals game July 15. Almost half of the world believes France will win with one of the youngest players, Mbappe.
The two teams have previously played each other five times, three of which were won by France and two were draws. In the past three World Cup finals, the teams have tied in regular time.
When France made their first finals appearance at the 1998 World Cup and Spain at the 2010 World Cup, both teams won. Croatia with their last three games going to extra time and this being their first appearance in the final, some past statistics may be on their side.
Belgium and England will play July 14 in the third place play-off beginning at 10 a.m. The final game will begin at 11 a.m. with a pre-game show beforehand. Be sure to watch the final game on Fox Sports.