Underdog status suits Croatia perfectly for World Cup final - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Underdog status suits Croatia perfectly for World Cup final

Posted: Updated:
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein). Croatia's Dejan Lovren celebrates after Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scored his side's second goal during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, We... (AP Photo/Frank Augstein). Croatia's Dejan Lovren celebrates after Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scored his side's second goal during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, We...
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein). Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic, right, celebrates with Luka Modric after his team advanced to the final during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, R... (AP Photo/Frank Augstein). Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic, right, celebrates with Luka Modric after his team advanced to the final during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, R...
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell). Croatia's Dejan Lovren lies on the pitch during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell). Croatia's Dejan Lovren lies on the pitch during the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko). Croatia fans celebrate their team victory after the semifinal soccer match between Croatia and England during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Nikolskaya street near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko). Croatia fans celebrate their team victory after the semifinal soccer match between Croatia and England during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Nikolskaya street near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 12, 2018.
  • NationalMore>>

  • 'Suffering' ends with Honduran baby back in parents' arms

    'Suffering' ends with Honduran baby back in parents' arms

    Friday, July 20 2018 2:50 PM EDT2018-07-20 18:50:18 GMT
    Saturday, July 21 2018 3:37 AM EDT2018-07-21 07:37:06 GMT
    (AP Photo/Esteban Felix). In this July 18, 2018 photo, Rolando Bueso Castillo and his wife Adalicia Montecinos, stand in their home in La Libertad, Honduras. It's been five months since they have seen their infant son Johan Bueso Castillo who was separ...(AP Photo/Esteban Felix). In this July 18, 2018 photo, Rolando Bueso Castillo and his wife Adalicia Montecinos, stand in their home in La Libertad, Honduras. It's been five months since they have seen their infant son Johan Bueso Castillo who was separ...
    A Honduran man who was separated from his baby son at the Texas border and then deported without him soon will hold the boy again.More >>
    A Honduran man who was separated from his baby son at the Texas border and then deported without him soon will hold the boy again.More >>
  • Ticket mix-up put family on ill-fated Missouri tourist boat

    Ticket mix-up put family on ill-fated Missouri tourist boat

    Saturday, July 21 2018 12:18 AM EDT2018-07-21 04:18:42 GMT
    Saturday, July 21 2018 3:36 AM EDT2018-07-21 07:36:49 GMT
    (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). People pray outside Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator involved in a boating accident on Table Rock Lake, Friday, July 20, 2018 in Branson, Mo.(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). People pray outside Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator involved in a boating accident on Table Rock Lake, Friday, July 20, 2018 in Branson, Mo.
    More than half of the 17 people killed when a tourist boat sank on a Branson lake were members of the same Indiana family, and they likely wouldn't have been on the ill-fated trip but for a ticket mix-up.More >>
    More than half of the 17 people killed when a tourist boat sank on a Branson lake were members of the same Indiana family, and they likely wouldn't have been on the ill-fated trip but for a ticket mix-up.More >>
  • Bayer to stop sales of birth control device tied to injuries

    Bayer to stop sales of birth control device tied to injuries

    Friday, July 20 2018 12:14 PM EDT2018-07-20 16:14:13 GMT
    Saturday, July 21 2018 3:36 AM EDT2018-07-21 07:36:44 GMT
    (Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals via AP). FILE - This image provided by Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals shows the birth control implant Essure. On Friday, July 20, 2018, the maker of the permanent contraceptive implant subject to thousands of injury ...(Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals via AP). FILE - This image provided by Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals shows the birth control implant Essure. On Friday, July 20, 2018, the maker of the permanent contraceptive implant subject to thousands of injury ...
    The maker of a permanent birth control implant said Friday it will stop selling the device in the U.S. at the end of the year.More >>
    The maker of a permanent birth control implant said Friday it will stop selling the device in the U.S. at the end of the year.More >>

By JAMES ELLINGWORTH
AP Sports Writer

MOSCOW (AP) - A billion-dollar assembly of stars makes France the favorite for the World Cup final, a scenario that Dejan Lovren is pitching as perfect for Croatia's biggest ever game.

"We love to be the underdogs," Lovren said in the wake of Croatia's England 2-1 extra-time win over England.

With a population of 4.3 million and a history of struggle, it's easy to see why. Not since Uruguay's win in 1950 has a country of so few people reached a World Cup final.

Croatia's players were born around the time an independent Croatia emerged from the wars which divided the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Lovren and star midfielder Luka Modric were refugees as children.

Croatia still struggles economically and its football scene has been riven with hooliganism, crime and politics.

It's a country that breeds toughness in its players.

The key to Croatia's success in Russia, Lovren said, is "Our mentality."

"War, all these things and even now the situation is not the best," he said. "It's unbelievable how many talents we have in sports."

Two years ago, Croatia's campaign at the 2016 European Championship was overshadowed by turmoil in the stands as fans hurled dozens of flares onto the field in protest against the football federation leadership. A year before that, a swastika was drawn on the field before a national-team game.

Those episodes have led to sanctions from soccer's international governing body, but Lovren is hoping the squad's success at this World Cup will mark a turning point for the country.

"It's not just football, it's a bigger picture for us unfortunately," he said. "Us players, now we change something and everyone is proud of us in Croatia."

Despite the Balkan nation's small population, it is a veritable talent factory in a wide range of sports. There's the former U.S. Open tennis champion Marin Cilic, a raft of current and ex-NBA players, Olympic champions in skiing, discus and the country's beloved water polo.

Most of all, Croatia is an export market for quality footballers, with a squad boasting stars for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.

Until now, Croatia's greatest moment on the football pitch was reaching the World Cup semifinals in 1998, the country's first tournament after becoming independent.

Stars of that team remain household names in Croatia, including the football federation president and ex-Real Madrid striker Davor Suker, who has been with this squad all the way through this World Cup campaign. After the quarterfinal win over Russia, Suker said he'd be delighted if Modric replaced him as Croatia's greatest player of all time.

Instead, he said, "I'll be the greatest president!"

Now that the 2018 squad has gone a step further than the 1998 semifinalists, Lovren and Croatia are creating a narrative beyond anything they experienced as children when the stars of the national team were etched into folk lore following a semifinal loss to France.

"I was only nine. I remember my mum was screaming, she was crying after the French game," Lovren said. "After 20 years people will remember us not any more (than just) '98 - and this is what I wanted."

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Powered by Frankly