Photographer Yuri Cortez says he was left with the best pictures he’s taken of the 2018 World Cup after the “unexpected” moment of ending up in the middle of Croatia’s celebrations in their semi-final victory over England.
Cortez was assigned the second semi-final for Agence France-Presse and was treated to a special moment in extra-time after Mario Mandzukic delivered an 109th minute finish to put Croatia up 2-1 in the contest and on the path to the World Cup final.
Croatia players streamed off the pitch and into a massive pile up near the corner flag, where Cortez was positioned, and the photographer found himself caught up in the celebration.
Cortez admitted that getting that close to the action was not something he ever expected to occur.
“It was really incredible and unexpected,” Cortez told Goal. “It never crossed my mind that something like this would happen and that I would end up buried under the mountain of players celebrating, especially that closeness with Mandzukic, Pivaric, Perisic, and Vida.”
At first, the Croatian players appeared not to fully realize Cortez had been caught up in their midst, only to pull him into the mix after they realized. Domagoj Vida even planted a kiss on Cortez as he pulled away when the celebrations finished.
Cortez said the players checked on him when they realized what had happened and aimed to aid him in any way possible.
“They were worried after Mandzukic discovered that a photographer was buried under them and [he] immediately went to give me a hand to stand up and the others did the same,” Cortez said. “Their words were ‘Are you okay?’
“And Perisic asked, ‘are these your glasses?’ And I said yes!! Then he put them over my head, gave me a hug and shook hands asking ‘Are you ok?’”
Cortez explained that was where his interactions with the players stopped, as they left the field quickly after the game and he did not celebrate with them afterward.
However, Cortez, who is shooting his fourth World Cup, certainly has no complaints over the experience. In fact, it helped get him the photos he’s most proud of.
When asked the best picture he’s taken, Cortez replied: “I think that the sequence of the Croatia players' celebrations are the best pictures in the Russia World Cup.”