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  • Writer's pictureGoran Yerkovich

How Underdogs Surprised The World

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

Most people may not realize this but history was made on Wednesday July 11th. Croatia, with a population of just 4 million, became the second smallest nation to ever reach the World Cup Football Finals. Uruguay was the first. With a population of almost 1.9 Million back in 1930.

In doing so, those enigmatic red and white Croatian checkered players created one of the most inspiring stories in recent World Cup History. A story for underdogs around the world to embrace. And a lesson we can all bring home.

Croatia were ranked 20th by Fifa leading up to the world cup. Well below Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, England and France.

Most picked Germany to win it all again. Or possibly Brazil, correcting a major wrong of the 2014 final in Brazil.

But Croatia was not on the radar for most football fans.

They received little media coverage.

Croatia, similar to Uruguay, would be tagged as dark horses of the tournament only by those who knew football, and knew the players and talent within their squad.

The question football pundits asked, the question even their biggest fans wondered was could Croatia, even with all their talent, be able to find a way to put it all together?

Would they find a way to win?

The answer, leading now to the 2018 World Cup Final of Croatia vs France Sunday, was an unequivocal YES.

Underdogs throughout the tournament, Croatia, the small nation that refused to surrender, put together an unbeaten run of games, winning every match to make the finals. Doing so the hard way.

Few doubted skill and individual talents on the Croatian National team, with players from Juventus, Barcelona, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and of course, Real Madrid.

But even as they continued to win, the question remained - would they have the ability to put it all together, and make a real run in this world cup?

Few believed it was possible.

But slowly, incredibly, that small nation, known for it’s beautiful blue sea’s off the coast of the Adriatic, the underdogs, against all odds, simply couldn’t lose.

Croatia found it’s X factor.

Croatia unleashed an X factor, an almost intangible force, that caused each player to play as if their lives depended on it.

It pushed each of them to make that one extra tackle, to run faster, harder, and to push through the pain. If they could find a way to continue, players refused to leave the pitch, even when injured.

Croatia found their spirit, a driving force within all of us, and executed with near perfection.

The players stood up and took accountability for what was about to happen. They came to an undeniable agreement that they would do whatever it takes to win. And that if they failed to win, they’d say with a satisfied mind that they gave everything in trying. Every last piece of their soul and physical health for Russia’s World Cup of 2018.

But somehow, despite what everyone else predicted, their formula worked.

As each game went by, seemingly Croatia’s last, growing in difficulty with each passing minute, Croatia continued to win.

Croatia decided to fight. And to work together in the process.

Through the injuries, pain, and illness they carried on. Ivan Rakitic had a fever of 39C just the night before the England vs Croatia game. But he told no one. Not his team mates and most certainly not the media. Instead, playing all 120 minutes of football.

There is class in this.

The players quietly agreed to put their lives on the line. And humbly so.

This is the Inspirational Part of the Story for us all.

Regardless of if you watch football or not. Regardless of if you support Croatia or not. There is something here we can all take and learn here.

Croatia were underdogs in the tournament. They are still underdogs Sunday when they face France in World Cup Final. But what they have shown, better than any team in this Russian World Cup 2018. is that they never give up, and they always continue to believe.

In the Dreams you hold most dear - Never give up.

Never stop believing.

The Croatian National team continued to fight when others might not have. Through pain and injury, the team joined together, pushing each other on. Fighting to reach their ultimate goal.

Even if no one else believed in them.

In reaching our goals it’s not just about belief, it’s about never giving up. It’s about fighting on from one painful moment to the next to reach our goals.

The Croatian team played three overtime games in a row to reach the finals. Winning in penalties against Denmark and Russia in extra time and then again against England to win 2 -1.

In the Russia and England games Croatia came from behind to win.

This, for those who follow the sport is not something that happens often. In fact, it may be the first time it’s happened at this stage of ANY World Cup.

In the game against Russia, Croatia’s goalkeeper Danijel Subašić, took the lead, with a hamstring injury near the end of the game he fell to the ground in excruciating pain. He was devastated. He appeared finished.

But then something happened. Somehow Subašić stood again, hobbling on one leg as he gathered his composure. He had decided it was time to continue on.

We would learn after that game against Russia that the Croatian coach was in the process of subbing Croatia’s wounded keeper. But when Subašić realized this, he told the trainers, “No. If I only have one leg left, I will play to the end.”

And play he did, saving a near goal in extra time, jumping on one foot to make the save. Then again in penalties stopping a shot with his hand, Subašić helped his team defeat an equally tireless Russia team.

Finding a way to win is all about fighting through or fears. Our nerves. Our Pain. Staying calm and continuing to believe is crucial.

In the lead up to England vs Croatia, the celebrations were underway in England as if they had already won the world cup, or that somehow they were already in the final. “It’s coming home” videos were everywhere.

England was celebrating as if it was a foregone conclusion.

Once again the attention went to the favourites.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.

Some leaders are great speakers. Others lead quietly, by example. They are humble and they are dedicated.

Luka Modric is one such leader.

Modric was not impressed by the English media. He called them arrogant. That incredibly, despite winning all their matches, and beating Argentina 3–0, somehow it was already decided that England was aboit to steamroll over Croatia.

We draw strength from the words that hurt us the most. By those who do not see our potential. Who do not know what we’ve already accomplished. We quietly carry on.

And wait for our turn to shine.

Despite Croatia’s performances leading up to the game, Croatia yet again, almost unbelievably remained clear underdogs.

But Luka Modric, the son of a textile working mother and mechanic father, who all became refugees after Luka’s Grandfather was executed by Serb rebels during the Yugoslavian civil war of the 1990s, refused to give up.

Luka, named after his grandfather, would spend 7 years as a refugee living in a hotel with his family. In those years, thousands of grenades fell in his city of Zadar, and football became his one and only escape from a bleak and tormented reality.

For years as a child, near poverty, Modric would play at the hotel parking lot, with his fellow refugees. Hoping for a miracle.

Then a small miracle happened.

Seeing their small child’s talent and insatiable love for the beautiful game, at the age of 7 Luka made it into a sporting academy. His parents, saved and paid for his entry with what little money they had.

Family is there when you need them most. Even when things don’t go to plan.

But despite his many talents with a ball, Modric was small in stature and had a gentle spirit. Not the combination many football coaches or scouts look for in young talent, especially in Croatia.

As time passed Modric continued to flourish, but when opportunity came calling, Hajduk, Split, one of Croatia’s biggest teams, refused to sign Luka, citing that Luka didn’t have what it took to be a great footballer. He would have to wait for another opportunity…

Fast forward back to the kickoff of England vs Croatia:

The players, going one goal behind early, fighting through pain, through injury, pushed each other on. They kept going. And eventually, they would score, not once but twice, beating the favourites in extra time.

They found a way, through shear belief. And with something more…

The X factor, Croatia’s finding a way to win, can be ALL be summed up in ONE moment in the game against England…

Near the end of the 120 minutes, Luka Modric completed another of his many running, sprinting tackles across the field, pushing the ball away from an English player, taking it out of play.

The feat in this was not the tackle. But everything around it.

Modric made this tackle in mid-field.

It was desperate.

It was a tackle one might only witness near a defenders own goal, in a moment of shear desperation.

But Modric did it anyways, punishing his body in the process. He understood it’s importance.

After the tackle Modric collapsed to the ground in exhaustion.

Luka could not get up.

Seconds went by. And then a few more.

Then the Croatian defender Vida ran over.

Vida leaned down and said something to Modric. The defender gently patted Modric on the face.

And then slowly, Modric, the boy, the refugee of humble beginnings - at that moment did something that locked in his claim as the best modern day midfield player of current times - he simply and quietly got up. He made no fuss, and continued to play.

Inspiration comes in may forms.

It exists in all of us.

In the underdog that refuses to surrender.

It’s there in moments when we need it most.

It comes in many sizes.

And it defines us all.

In the end, regardless of if Croatia win the world cup, the story has already been told. What happens in the final on Sunday is irrelevant.

What matters most is about how each of us choose to live our lives. We have a choice to dream big and work hard towards our goals.

Life is about the hard days when no one is watching, but you know, you’re moving forward and making progress. It’s about picking ourselves up when we fall down. It’s about helping our friends when they fall.

And it’s about not making a big deal of it all.

This story is about you and me and all the underdogs today. It is a story for those told they are not good enough, smart enough or fast enough. For those told they are crazy for even trying, because they’ll never make it.

It is a war cry to all of us to fight on even when we think we can’t fight any more.

For more inspiring stories visit us at

Thank you,

Goran Yerkovich


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