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WORLD CUP

‘We’re ready for France’: Croatia confident after reaching World Cup final

Ecstatic Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is confident tiredness will not be an issue for his side when they face France in the World Cup final despite once again coming through extra time to beat England on Wednesday.

'We're ready for France': Croatia confident after reaching World Cup final
AFP

Croatia came from behind to win 2-1 in the semi-final clash in Moscow, with Mario Mandzukic claiming the winner in the 109th minute after Ivan Perisic had earlier cancelled out Kieran Trippier's free-kick opener.

Dalic's side were clearly exhausted, but they managed to fight on to the end of two hours of gripping football to take the country of just over four million people into the final for the first time.

However, the biggest concern looking ahead to Sunday's game is bound to be fatigue, with Croatia having also required extra time and penalties to come through ties against Denmark and hosts Russia in the past two weeks.

France will have had 24 hours longer to prepare for the game after edging out Belgium 1-0 in 90 minutes in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

“This is fantastic. Two players played with half a leg, but it didn't show. In extra-time nobody wanted to be substituted. This shows character and is 
what makes me proud. Nobody gave up,” said Dalic, whose team have played the equivalent of one match more than the French.

“We prepared to get to the final and we want to play it. Going to extra-time might be a problem along with the fact France have had an extra day 
to recover but there will be no excuses,” he added.

“We have to play as if this were the first game in this tournament.”

No team has ever made it to the World Cup final after going to extra-time in all three prior knockout rounds — England twice won in extra-time in 1990 
before losing on penalties to West Germany in the semi-finals.

Dalic was only appointed as Croatia coach towards the end of their qualifying campaign, leading them to Russia via a play-off win against Greece.



'Better in all aspects'

He described France as a “top-drawer team with fantastic players”, but his own side have earned their place in the final, their victory over England 
coming after they earlier destroyed Lionel Messi and Argentina with a 3-0 win in the group stage.

Luka Modric has been inspirational throughout their run, yet there were numerous outstanding performances at the Luzhniki Stadium as Croatia recovered from a shaky opening half hour.

Among the best was Marcelo Brozovic, the Inter Milan midfielder brought into the line-up to provide extra steel in front of the defence.

“We were the better team in all aspects of the game,” said Dalic.

“We played better than we did against Argentina. I told the players before the game there was no pressure — we have reached the semi-finals, enjoy your football and this was exactly what we did.”

Croatia now have the chance to take revenge on France after losing 2-1 in Paris when the sides met in the semi-finals back in 1998 — Dalic travelled to that World Cup as a fan.

With such a modest population, they are the smallest country to get to a World Cup final since Uruguay back in 1950, and in the modern game it is a 
staggering achievement.

“For Croatian football and Croatia as a country this is history being written,” said the 51-year-old Dalic.

“We are going to play England in the League of Nations (in October) and we don't have a proper stadium to play that game. But we have our hearts, our pride and our players and that is what is really important to us.”

He will just be hoping that all of them are fit enough for one last effort against a fearsome French side.

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FOOTBALL

France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

READ ALSO: France coach laments 'failure' as hosts knocked out of World Cup

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