MOSCOW (CNN) – Fans let off flares in the streets. Smoke filled the night sky. It was Croatia celebrating the goal that took the national football team to the World Cup final for the first time in the country’s history. Thousands of people gathered in the country’s capital to cheer on their heroes and, after 120 agonizing minutes, they were not disappointed.
“Pretty much everybody was depressed for up to 60 minutes until Perisic scored,” Croatian journalist Hrvoje Kresic stated. Then, cue pandemonium as Mario Mandzukic scored the vital goal to ensure that Croatia would face France in Moscow on Sunday.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic posted a picture of the team celebrating in the locker room after the game. “You left your heart on the pitch and deserve to be in the World Cup final,” he wrote.
“Historic day for Croatia!” wrote the government’s official Twitter page, posting photos of fans celebrating in Moscow and back home. “Excellent ‘Fiery Ones’ took us to the final of the World Cup! Indescribable!”
Not since 1998 had the Croats made the World Cup semifinal. Supporters who made the trip to Moscow were in the mood to make the most of the occasion. A huge Croatian flag was unfurled in Moscow’s Red Square in the hours leading up to kickoff, while one fan said that 15 extra planes had been chartered to fly fans out for the match.
After Wednesday’s dramatic win over England, few will be eager to head home just yet.
For England, it was another tale of footballing hope which ended with despair. Beers filled the sky and, in places, the nation came to a standstill as England’s hopes of reaching a first World Cup final since 1966 were cruelly ended in extra time.
Fans gathered in bars, parks and homes to watch the most anticipated match since the semifinal of Italia 1990 — England lost on penalties to West Germany. As has become customary throughout the tournament, fans in East London celebrated Kieran Trippier’s opening goal by throwing thousands of full pints into the air.
In Hyde Park, one of central London’s most popular tourist attractions, a huge screen had been temporarily installed, giving 30,000 fans a chance to watch the semifinal together. Tickets were free, but awarded at random through an online ballot.
In Brighton, on the country’s south coast, a big screen had been set up on the city’s famous pebbled beach. An estimated 3,500 fans enjoyed the quarterfinal win against Sweden there, and even more were expected to watch the semifinal match on Wednesday.
But, as always seems to be the case for England supporters, it was far from plain sailing, despite Kieran Trippier opening the scoring for Gareth Southgate’s men in the first half. Croatia began the second half strongly and found the equalizer that its pressure largely deserved, as Ivan Perisic tucked away Sime Vrsaljko’s cross.
Hyde Park, previously a scene of jubilation, fell completely silent. Yet worse was to follow as Mandzukic struck the winner in extra time. “Gutted,” was the reaction of England fan Matt Maltby from London. “Proud of the boys, but we had an easy ride getting to the last four, and this feels like a big opportunity missed.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May offered her own condolences on social media. “Wasn’t to be this time but it’s been a great journey that’s made the country proud,” May tweeted.
While fans in England dispersed to ponder what might have been, those in Croatia will be preparing for one more big party on Sunday.
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