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ZAGREB, Croatia – Euphoria gave way to a mixture of disappointment and pride for Croatia fans after their national team lost to France in its first ever World Cup final.
The entry into the World Cup final in Russia brought the country of 4 million people to a standstill Sunday after officials and the media described the event as the biggest in Croatia's sports history.
"Croatia has fallen as a hero!' proclaimed the Index news portal. "Croatia's team has managed to unite the whole country!"
Fans in the capital Zagreb — many wearing the team's red-and-white checked shirts or wrapped in national flags — crammed into squares and streets and were full of hope and cheers until the last moment.
As the game ended 4-2, they couldn't hide sadness but many said they were impressed by what Croatia has achieved at the tournament.
"Of course I am sad. I could see them lift the trophy, but this is really fantastic," Aleksandar Todorovic said. "We were great!"
Waving flags and singing songs, the fans kept up their spirits as the crowd partly dispersed from Zagreb's main square.
Firecrackers went off as the state TV proclaimed that "we are still not aware of what we have done." Many fans went on celebrating into the evening.
Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the national team are "the first in the world for me."
"People are happy as if we have won and that's the way it should be," Plenkovic added. "This is a miraculous success for Croatia and we should be very, very happy."
The fans were particularly proud that the team captain, Luka Modric, won the Golden Ball after being voted the best player of the World Cup.
"We have achieved so much," the 26-year-old Sofia Halinovcic said. "This is the best ever we did."
Halinovcic contended that "we had great expectations, but we still need to process what we have done."
Croatia is planning a huge welcome ceremony for its players on Monday that will include celebrations at the main square in Zagreb and a reception with the country's president.