England didn’t match pregame hype, says Rakitic

Ivan Rakitic said England were wrong to believe they had the edge over Croatia in Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal and that Gareth Southgate’s side didn’t live up to fans’ expectations.

Emphasis was placed before the game on the fact Croatia had needed extra time to see off Denmark and Russia and that England, who beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarterfinal, were considered fresher — and were younger — going into the game.

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However, that didn’t prove to be the case, with more-experienced Croatia getting stronger as the match progressed and coming from behind to win 2-1 after extra time.

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“All I can say is that they asserted that they were going to be much better physically, that they were superior in that aspect,” Rakitic told Mundo Deportivo when asked if England talked too much before the game.

“But, in the end, it was the opposite. It was we who imposed ourselves and played better in the second half and in extra time. We deserved to win. We imposed ourselves because we were the better team.”

As well as playing 120 minutes twice in the week before the game, Rakitic had a fever on the eve of the England clash.

The Barcelona midfielder, who has coeliac disease, managed to shake it off just in time to help his country reach their first World Cup final.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic’s controversial decision to back Croatia at the World Cup has earned the Serbian tennis star praise from the finalists’ midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

With Serbia eliminated earlier in the tournament, former Wimbledon champion Djokovic caused a stir when he said he would support Croatia in their semi-final against England.

Croatia went on to beat England 2-1 and face France in the final on Sunday.

Taking a break from preparing for the showdown with France, Barcelona star Rakitic told Djokovic’s critics to leave him alone.

“I tip my hat to him, I root for him at Wimbledon. I would like to see him play the final so on Sunday we both have a great day,” he said.

“We are human beings and we have to try and put history behind us.

“For me Nole is a fantastic athlete but even more a fantastic person. I wish him all the luck in the world.”

Tensions between Serbians and Croats have run high for years and Vladimir Djukanovic, an MP in the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, went on social media to berate Djokovic.

“Only idiots can support Croatia. Aren’t you ashamed Novak?” he wrote.

Djokovic is currently at Wimbledon, with his semi-final against Rafael Nadal scheduled for later on Friday.

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