Sonia Barajas and her crew came prepared with penalty cards for the England-Croatia World Cup soccer match Wednesday morning.
“Foul!” someone yelled. Out flipped a yellow card. “Card him!” A red card.
Barajas, of Santa Rosa, and six friends watched — and participated in, sort of — the England-Croatia semifinal match at Toad in the Hole pub, which has hosted boisterous soccer crowds throughout the monthlong tournament.
“I’m a huge soccer fan,” Barajas said as the match, tied 1-1, went into extra time. “This is my life for a month.”
The group brought the red and yellow cards, used by soccer referees to penalize particularly rough play, on a lark.
“One of my friends always calls ‘offside,’ so we decided we needed a flag and cards,” she explained.
While the vast majority of the crowd backed England, a handful of Croatia fans braved the throng, many of whom stood for the playing of England’s national anthem, “God Save the Queen.”
Three Lions’ fans were buoyant early, as England took a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute, thrilling the 100-plus or so fans who filled the English pub and spilled out onto the sidewalk. British pasties and shepherd’s pie were on order, along with an assortment of beers and ciders.
But Croatia played the spoiler on the day, shocking England with a 2-1 win after veteran striker Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute.
Croatia, the first team in 28 years to come from behind to win a World Cup semifinal match, will play France for the title on Sunday in its biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991. Croatia is the second-smallest nation ever to play for the world’s largest trophy, second to Uruguay.
English hearts rose Wednesday morning as England took the lead, but were ultimately crushed, again.
For an English team that entered the tournament this year without much fanfare, hype reached a fever pitch as the team attempted to win its first World Cup since 1966.
British expats at Toad in the Hole on Wednesday were optimistic for the first time in years for their national team, which beat Colombia and Sweden en route to the semifinal.
Alex Roberts, Neil Turnbull and Clyde Hartwell, all originally from England, enjoyed a pint before kickoff and shared their collective hope that they would see Harry Kane & Co. in the final against France.
“This is as close as it gets to home,” said Hartwell. “In England, everyone is mad for it. Literally everyone.”
“And not just because of the beers,” added Turnbull.
England’s advance deep into the knockout round raised hope that doomed World Cup campaigns over the past five decades were a thing of the past. For the birthplace of the modern game, there was belief. “It’s coming home” became the team and the nation’s rallying cry for more than a fortnight.
Manchester native Paul Caswell was born in August 1966, just after England’s last World Cup title.
“I’m one of the oldest people never to see England win,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.”
Just feet away, though, Croatia fan George Cuculich walked away in victory this day.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” he said as the final tense minutes ticked off. “Zlatan!” he said — Croatian for “golden.”