War forged Croatia spirit, says Lovren
Croatia defender Dejan Lovren puts his nation's triumphs down to a spirit forged by the fight for independence and all the loss, sacrifice and strength a bloody war entailed. That, and "good love-making".
For the third successive game, a side representing a country with a population of only 4.2 million dug deep to come from behind and win. Against Denmark and Russia, they needed penalties to prevail. Against England, Mario Mandzukic's winner spared them another shoot-out.
Their reward is a return to the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday to face France in the final, 23 years after the end of the war for independence that claimed so many lives. France are the favourites but Lovren (right) believes only a fool would write off a team with an unwavering mental strength.
"I think our mentality was the difference," the Liverpool defender said. "We went through a lot of s---, war, all these things and even now the situation is not the best but it is unbelievable how many talents we have in sports if you look. When you look at basketball, at handball, at water polo, tennis especially. It's not just football, it's a bigger picture."
Can he pinpoint Croatia's sporting secret? "I would say we have good mothers and fathers," Lovren said, smiling. "They're making good love I would say."
Croatia have certainly been driven by a siege mentality. They have hugely overplayed the written-off, underdog card - the team and Luka Modric, their captain, in particular, were the subject of plenty of praise and admiration before the England game - but it is evidently working for them.
"Sometimes what is said about us is unfair, like in my case when people are talking about me, but from now everyone in Croatia and around the world thinks that we managed to make history," Lovren said. "It is a special history when you look back and see three times we've gone 120 minutes and still we have fresher legs than that England team.
"Before the game they said we are tired but we showed in extra time we had fresher legs than them - simple as that. The difference was mental because we knew we could write history and we did it."
Lovren believes he has settled a few scores on a personal level. Much was made in the build-up of the nightmare Lovren had against Harry Kane in Liverpool's 4-1 defeat by Tottenham last October.
"Without being arrogant, I think I have proved I am one of the best defenders in the world. Yes, I received questions like, 'What do you think about the 4-1?'. I really don't understand these questions, always looking back to where I made some mistakes. There is too much said about me but this is what gets me more motivated to work harder and prove everyone wrong. Everyone. Unfortunately I didn't win the Champions League final but there is now the World Cup to win." (© Daily Telegraph, London)