If there's not extra time, Croatia doesn't want to be a part of it. All teams face adversity in the pursuit of a World Cup crown, but Croatia has elevated the term 'thriller' to levels Alfred Hitchcock wouldn't dare fathom over the past two weeks. Already trailing favored England just five minutes into a semifinal match, Croatia never relented an offensive attack. After eventually cracking the cage of Jordan Pickford in the 68th minute, the Croats stood on familiar footing: an extra 30 minute session.
Having advanced to the semis after eliminating Denmark and Russia in back-to-back penalty kicks, Croatia attempted to do what many believed to be impossible: win three-straight matches in extra football.
Courtesy of a nifty run from Mario Mandzukic, they did just that. In the 109th, Mandzukic's shot crossed the face of the goal and nestled into the far side, sealing Croatia's fate as the first team to come from behind to win a World Cup semifinal match in 28 years.
How they got here: France
It was traditional, it was protective and it was effective. Having scored six goals through the previous two elimination games, the talented Bleus attack took a backseat to a more conservative gameplan focused on allowing Belgium to control the ball and capitalizing when the opportunity was there. Surrendering 64 percent of possession was no worry to France as long as they struck at the crucial moment. Spoiler: they struck at the crucial moment.
A corner in the 51st provided Samuel Umtiti the opportunity to flash his header abilities, as the French defender redirected the ball into the netting for the match's lone goal. Umtiti became the third French defender to score in the tournament and proved on the other end of the pitch that Les Bleus were not a force to be taken lightly. France managed to shutout Belgium, the most prolific scoring team entering the semifinal, and an aggressive Uruguay team in back-to-back matches.
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First time for everything
Croatia will be making their first appearance in the World Cup finals when they take the pitch inside Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Sunday. The Croats had only made it out of Group Stage play on one other occurrance, when they took home third place in their first World Cup as an independent nation in 1998.
A long awaited return
Many countries would be happy to have one opportunity at a World Cup final, but for France, it is more of a 'when' than an 'if' when it comes to The Bleus return to a finale. For the first time since dropping the 2006 title match, France find themselves with the ability to hoist the world's most sought after trophy. Having been stymied in the Group Stage and quarterfinals the previous two World Cups, France will look to avenge the 2006 match when they walked off in second place and hope to be crowned victores for the first time 1998, when they took home the title on their home pitch.