Croatia were greeted by an estimated half-a-million fans on the streets of Zagreb on Monday, as they returned home to a remarkable reception after losing in Sunday’s World Cup final.
Despite the undoubted individual quality available to coach Zlatko Dalic, few expected Croatia to go as far as they did in Russia.
Croatia’s preparations for the tournament were by no means perfect, considering Dalic was only appointed as the replacement for the sacked Ante Cacic last October with one last qualification group game to go.
He ultimately led them into the play-offs and then to Russia, where they picked up three wins in the group stage – including a brilliant 3-0 triumph over Argentina.
Penalty shoot-out victories over Denmark and Russia followed in the last 16 and quarter-finals, respectively, before a 2-1 win against England in extra-time saw them reach their first ever World Cup final.
Though star midfielder Luka Modric took home the Golden Ball for the tournament’s top player, Croatia came unstuck in the final, losing 4-2 to France.
However, the defeat did not dampen the spirits of those at home as the team returned from their best-ever World Cup performance.
According to the welcoming ceremony’s presenter, local police estimated 550,000 people – well over 10 per cent of the country’s 4.2 million population – took to the streets of capital city Zagreb throughout the day to see their heroes return, with the Croatia team travelling from the airport in an open-top bus.
A route that would usually take approximately 30 minutes took them over four hours, as the Croatian public greeted them as if they were royalty.
Although Croatia’s Russia adventure did not end with victory in the final, they are clearly seen as champions in the eyes of the public.
— Ivan Rakitic (@ivanrakitic) July 16, 2018