PAPELES EN EL VIENTO

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Ni uno ni otro gustaban del control. Preferían, los dos, atacar directo. Inglaterra desde la velocidad de sus carrileros, interiores y delanteros. Croacia, desde el físico, la altura, los envíos largos hacia las bandas. Esa manera de atacar tenía un objetivo también defensivo: terminar rápido la jugada para volver a ocupar posición y así no descuidar los espacios sin pelota. Se esperaba un partido en el que los dos semifinalistas renegaran de un posible protagonismo. No obstante, el gol tempranero de Kieran Trippier echó los papeles a la basura. Croacia debió salir, más por necesidad que por deseo propio. Inglaterra, pudo hacer lo que más le gusta: correr, correr y correr. Espacios, para sorpresa de todos, existieron.

Fueron los mejores minutos en el Mundial del equipo conducido por Gareth Southgate. El ritmo Premier League, tantas veces vapuleado en cruces de Champions League por otros equipos europeos, por fin tenía su momento. Croacia, aunque también contaba con sus herramientas para lastimar en ese golpe por golpe, estaba siendo sobrepasada por sus limitaciones, por el contexto y por el gran estado de confianza que mostraban los ingleses. Sobre todo Raheem Sterling y Dele Alli, irregulares en anteriores jornadas, hacían mucho daño con sus cambios de ritmo y giros eléctricos. Pero Inglaterra, por más que dejó las mejores sensaciones en esa primera mitad, no liquidó a una selección croata de virtudes muy puntuales. Algunas de ellas terminaron siendo determinantes en el resultado final: la capacidad para nunca bajar los brazos y el oportunismo para golpear al rival cuando menos se lo esperaba.

En el primer tiempo, los de Dalic sólo inquietaron mediante Ante Rebic.

Para el segundo tiempo, Croacia se adelantó en el campo y alargó sus posesiones. No tenía más remedio, puesto que Inglaterra tenía velocidad para contrarrestar a sus extremos y altura para desactivar los envíos largos. Que los ataques sean más pausados, organizados y prolongados podía parecer improductivo, pero de esta manera, Luka Modric e Ivan Rakitic jugaban más tiempo con la pelota en los pies que corriendo detrás de ella, mientras que Inglaterra dejaba poco a poco de intimidar con sus contraataques. No obstante, a pesar de aquella mejora croata, el empate siempre pareció estar demasiado lejos. Hasta que un gran centro de Šime Vrsaljko y un doble anticipo de Ivan Perisic, pusieron la igualdad a un trámite que en líneas generales, había favorecido a Inglaterra. Pero a partir de allí, el fútbol hizo valer su componente de estado anímico: los croatas olieron sangre de cada pelota que se encontrara en campo inglés. Modric y Rakitic se hicieron del control mientras Perisic derrochaba una energía diferencial al de los otros 20 futbolistas de campo. La embestida no les fue suficiente para evitar el tercer tiempo suplementario de la fase final.

Inglaterra, que había resistido a esos minutos casi sin saber cómo, pareció reaccionar en el tiempo extra, aunque también el cansancio croata tuvo que ver demasiado en aquellos minutos de paridad total. El partido parecía estar destinado a definirse desde los doce pasos, pero por enésima vez en este Mundial de Rusia, ocurrió algo que no coincidía con el desarrollo del trámite. A pura energía donde todo era cansancio, Perisic ganó un duelo aéreo y Mario Mandzukic, más atento que toda la defensa inglesa, castigó de zurda para que Croacia le pusiera el sello a la hoja más grandiosa de su historia futbolera. La proeza de 1998 será recordada como el antecedente directo a esta generación que a fuerza de una mentalidad formidable, derribó obstáculos hasta meterse en la final de Rusia 2018.

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1994. Si no rueda una pelota me siento incompleto. Cuando sea grande diré que vi jugar a Messi. Disfruto de leer y escribir.

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