FOXBORO, Mass. — Friday’s FIFA World Cup stunner brought a smile to the face of New England’s most famous Croatian.
Croatia upset tournament favorite Brazil 4-2 on penalty kicks to advance to its second straight World Cup semifinal — a dramatic finish that may have delayed Bill Belichick’s arrival to Patriots practice.
Belichick emerged from Gillette Stadium and climbed the steps to New England’s practice fields minutes after the soccer game went final and just as his players were completing their warmup. Asked about Croatia’s unlikely victory as he walked past a pack of reporters, the Patriots head coach flashed a smile and replied: “How ’bout that?”
Belichick is proud of his Croatian roots, sporting a patch with the nation’s flag during multiple Patriots games this season.
“I’m proud to wear it,” he said in October. “I’m not in Croatia. I’m not a citizen, but it is a heritage that is half of my family. My mom was English. My dad was Croatian. So for other Croatians — Coach (Nick) Saban, Coach (Pete) Carroll, and others of us that have that little bond — I’m proud of it and glad to have the opportunity to wear it. And I’ve heard from some people across the ocean that they appreciate it and appreciate the recognition as well. Go Croatia.”
Croatia, which scored the equalizer in the 117th minute before winning on PKs, is seeking its first World Cup title. It reached the finals of the last tournament, in 2018, but lost to France 4-2. Belichick recently told Croatia Week that he followed the country’s 2018 run and “rooted hard for our team.”
“I wear the jersey when the game is on TV for a little extra support, so I am very proud of the soccer team, of the handball team, the water polo team, and certainly great basketball players that have come out of there,” he said. “I will see if we can find a couple (American) football players from Croatia because I know there are some big, athletic kids there. I am proud of my heritage. It is something that will always resonate with me, and I still stay in contact with my cousins and family members and relatives from Croatia. I am very proud of it.”
Croatia will face the winner of Netherlands-Argentina next Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. Belichick’s Patriots will play one day earlier, visiting the Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football.”