Never in my life would I have thought to see such a turn around. As history has told us, this game is where we should have crumbled. Mentally, the flares and the news swirling around the federation should have had fans and players not excited for what was to come. But something remarkable happened today. A group of young talent and the old guard put up a performance that will go down in the top 5 moments of Croatian Football.
The game started with a full court press by the Vatreni. The tactic seemed to be working within the first 10 minutes, but inexperience and a tremendous Spanish attack opened up the scoring. Announcers blamed the goal on Srna, but Jedvaj looked like his feet were stuck in cement when the play occurred. The young ones tried to find their legs and heads throughout the first half, as the old guard made sure that Spain couldn’t get another. As a fan, I was worried for what would come out of the rest of the game.
But, just before the halftime whistle Ivan Perisic cemented his spot as one of Croatia’s most exciting footballers of the decade. He ran down the line, facing two defenders, and cut the ball back before whipping it in to Kalinic. For not seeing much of Kalinic throughout the game, he was exactly what we needed when he was called to perform. His stunning heel flick was what gave the team hope going into halftime.
10 minutes into the second half, you could feel and see that the Vatreni wanted this victory more than the Spanish did. With only 3 minutes left in regulation, Spain had a shot on goal deflected, Pjaca weighted a beautiful pass to Kalinic, and the counter attack was on. Kalinic held the ball beautifully down the field, and gave Perisic the ball at the exact moment he needed it. The rest was history, as Perisic fired a ball low and hard past De Gea. As time wound down, we all waited for that Turkey moment, and it almost happened. Da Silva tore into the box, and weighted a through ball into the box that looked like it was destined to be tapped in, but Corluka miraculously kicked his leg out and the final whistle blew.
Aside from the fact that we beat Spain, I see this as a shift in mentality for our squad. Where we would crumble in the past, we’ve done just the opposite with two of our leaders off the field. This goes to show that we don’t always need the best club players on the field, we need players out there that want it more than anyone else.