Stage set for an epic World Cup final clash

We were lucky enough to land tickets to the England versus Croatia semi-final and got firmly behind the English, whose fans have effectively become a cult following.

Before that clash, we watched the Belgium and France match at the fan zone and saw a French outfit comfortably take care of a side which I felt all tournament missed the true quality to become champions.

A short train ride to red square in the morning and we are amongst a sea of fans drinking and singing as they prepare for a World Cup semi-final.

At this stage our allegiance is firmly with England as two of my old teammates from Middlesbrough futsal had joined myself, Michael Busija, Matt Jamieson and Marcus Lynch for this part of the trip. Unfortunately Josh Antonelli didn’t have a ticket, but in a miraculous turn of events managed to gain one the day before the match. And in he comes!

Originally we start at the Croatian end, but make our way through lacklustre security to the English section of the crowd and start singing.

OFF TO THE BIG DANCE: Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates his side's win over England, which sets up a World Cup final against France.

OFF TO THE BIG DANCE: Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates his side's win over England, which sets up a World Cup final against France.

Trippier takes an early free kick and the stadium erupts as England hits the lead. For the next 60 minutes songs are in harmony as English fans feel “it’s coming home”.

Croatia then took control and ultimately was the better side, creating history by reaching a maiden World Cup final.

After full time is where we witnessed something that will be my highlight of the World Cup and will live in the memory for the rest of my life. English players came to clap the fans, which sung to them for at least 20 minutes. I have never witnessed a level of respect and complete togetherness of fans and players such as this.

England players achieved one thing this tournament – they brought a divided football nation together once again toward a common goal. It’s a strange thing as it’s a country very critical of sporting sides and is so similar to Australia in that respect. I just long for the day we have a movement like England’s which captures the nation’s attention.

Anyway, it’s now 2am on a Thursday and red square is buzzing as we sit having a beer. It’s only a couple of days (Monday morning in Australia) until we go to the World Cup final.

The dream of every kid that loves football is this game and as a child it was my dream too. I have decided to support Croatia purely as that side is the underdogs and I played for years at a Croatian team in Tasmania.

  • Corey Smith is the manager of the Sebastopol Vikings and is touring Russia for the World Cup with friends from Ballarat.