MOSCOW • Defender Dejan Lovren revealed that the secret of Croatia's success in becoming the smallest nation to reach a World Cup final in 68 years is their mentality.
"We went through a lot of s***, wars, all these things. Even now the situation is not the best," said the Liverpool centre-back. "But it's unbelievable how many talents we have in sports: basketball, handball, water polo, tennis."
The list of sporting heroes churned out by the country of over four million includes tennis star Marin Cilic, high jump double world champion Blanka Vlasic, and former National Basketball Association star Toni Kukoc.
As Croatia seek to win football's biggest prize, it is striking how often their mentality comes up.
For all the justifiable emphasis on the way Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic seized control of midfield in their semi-final against England, one recurring factor in all of Croatia's performances in Russia has been their spirit.
They won all three group games, against Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland, coming through difficult times in each one. They went a goal down to Denmark in the round of 16 but equalised and then won on penalties.
It was the same story against Russia in their quarter-final, when they held their nerve and finally silenced a partisan crowd in Sochi.
Then came the semi-final against England: again they conceded first but they fought back and eventually the quality of Modric, Rakitic and Ivan Perisic was the difference.
Despite playing 90 minutes more than France, who have also enjoyed an extra day of rest, Rakitic insisted that Croatia will find the strength they need today.
"There will be excess energy, don't worry about that. This is a historic game, not just for us but for everybody who is Croatian," said the Barcelona star. "There are 4.5 million players on the pitch. We will carry one another. We know this is the biggest game of our lives."
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic agreed that tiredness will not be a factor and said there will be no excuses.
He has no major injury concerns even though Lovren, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and midfielder Perisic were among five players to miss training on Friday.
"We do not insist on practice sessions. We have nothing to practise. We need relaxation, rest to regain freshness for tomorrow," Dalic told a press conference yesterday.
"We have some minor injuries, minor problems. I hope we will overcome those today and that all my players will be ready to play in the final...
"Win or lose tomorrow there will be a seismic event (in Croatia)."
Not since Uruguay won the tournament in 1930 and 1950 has such a small nation been in this position.
Few predicted Croatia to go all the way and Dalic sees similarities between his side and the Greece team that won Euro 2004.
"I see the connection... although they are two different styles of football," he told Fifa.com. "No one believed that they could be the champions, but they were compact and had great teamwork."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE