Croatia achieved an incredible feat by making a second straight World Cup semi-final this year. For a country of only just over four million people, perhaps only Uruguay can claim to have managed something comparable. Yet it will not remove the slightly bitter taste from their mouth after defeat at the penultimate stage.
It was shaping up to be a cagey even game during the opening stages against Argentina, before they fell a goal behind. However when Julian Alvarez tapped the ball beyond Dominik Livakovic and collided with him, the penalty tipped the balance after the match.
Speaking after the match, Croatia captain Luka Modric felt it was a tremendously unjust decision.
“We were fine, controlling the game and this corner that the referee didn’t give us and the penalty, which for me wasn’t one, it changed everything. The Argentine shoots and collides with our goalkeeper, he goes for him, I can’t believe he gave that penalty. That changes the game a bit. But we can’t change it, we have to recover and try to win the next game.”
Croatia struggled to maintain control after losing parity and throughout the second half, could not provide a credible threat to Argentina.
As with many teams during this World Cup, the margin for error is so slim that even just falling behind can make a match sufficiently uphill. Croatia managed to recover against Japan and Brazil, but even still won just once and lost just once all tournament, with four draws after 90 minutes, which speaks to those margins.