Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (L) speaks to AFP photographer Yuri Cortez (C) after falling on him with teammates while celebrating scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (AFP / Jewel Samad)

The joy of Yuri Cortez

Luzhniki stadium, Moscow -- «I completely shared in their joy at qualification,» said AFP photographer Yuri Cortez, who was literally submerged by celebrating Croatian footballers after the goal that sent them to the World Cup final.

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (L) shakes hands with AFP photographer Yuri Cortez (C) after falling on him with teammates while celebrating their second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Mladen Antonov)

At 53-years-old, Cortez has extensive experience of extreme, dangerous and difficult situations.

"Obviously, that was different, I never felt in danger, although I do have a few bruises. I think that’s also why I was smiling. That’s what’s different between a conflict situation and what happened at the end of the match. 

«My travel plans were to leave Russia on July 4 because after the first round we reduce the number of photographers on site and the first to go are those covering the teams that have been knocked out. But this World Cup was completely different to the others. The favourites started being eliminated from the first round. Germany were knocked out, Portugal were eliminated, Spain went home. And with them, the photographers that were following them".

"As Mexico survived the group phase, that extended my stay in Russia. My second departure date was fixed for July 12, the day after the second semi-final. I would have liked to stay to the end but it wasn’t possible".

Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic takes a corner kick during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic takes a corner kick during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018 (AFP / Yuri Cortez)

«We have a coordinator for the World Cup who organises the schedule, to cover training, matches and everything else. And we have a coordinator for each group of photographers covering each match. In my case, for the match at the Luzhniki Stadium, it was Mladen Antonov. It was up to him to distribute the numbers for the different positions in the stadium. I found myself with the number one, which I’d already had at other matches and shows the trust Mladen has in me".

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (C) shoots and scores his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (C) shoots and scores his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Jewel Samad)


"You’re in the corner of the pitch which gives you a direct view of the coach and the substitutes’ bench. There’s action on the pitch but also from the coach with his players and the reaction of those who are on the bench when a goal is scored. That’s why we consider this position, along with the one at the opposite end of the pitch, to be the most important".

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018.Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Yuri Cortez)

«All of a sudden there were four or five of them and I was on my seat taking photos. Then other players started arriving, including those from the bench and all of a sudden the pressure was too great and I found myself caught in this avalanche with the barrier, the seat and all of them on top of me.

« I started clicking on the button as I was falling and I kept going even though I was buried under a mountain of players. I had a close up of their faces, their euphoria, their emotion, seen from underneath.”

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (L) celebrates with Croatia's forward Ivan Perisic after scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (L) celebrates with Croatia's forward Ivan Perisic after scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Jewel Samad)

« When they understood what was happening, the players were very friendly with me, they asked me if I was OK, there was even one who in the middle of all this chaos picked up my glasses and put them back on me. And then there was the moment that (Domagoj) Vida took my hand, hugged me, and swept away by emotion, gave me a kiss".

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (R) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (R) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Yuri Cortez)


«It was a great moment, I completely shared in their joy at qualifying for the final and being able to keep hoping they will take home the cup. It was a great moment. »

 

Yuri Cortez has had a long career with AFP, starting with the aftermath of the Salvadorian conflict.  «When I was a teenager, the conflict was in full flow. I came to cover it as a photographer at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s when the peace process was underway.”

He then left in 1992 for Peru, «during a very difficult year because the Shining Path (communist guerrilla group) was at its zenith.”  dans une année très difficile car le Sentier lumineux était à son apogée ». With a spate of car bombings.

Haitian police are seen through a broken car window 29 February 2004 in Port-au-Prince.  Angry mobs rampaged through the Haitian capital  after President Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country, leaving smoke billowing over the city and at least 10 dead. Haitian police are seen through a broken car window 29 February 2004 in Port-au-Prince. Angry mobs rampaged through the Haitian capital after President Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country, leaving smoke billowing over the city and at least 10 dead. (AFP / Yuri Cortez)

«The most powerful ones I witnessed were in the embassy neighbourhood, at Miraflores. Once, we were in a restaurant and I saw what looked like a lightning bolt. I had just enough time to say to my photographer colleague : « Bomb!» and the explosion went off. Stepping out into the road made me think of Beirut.»

After that, Yuri covered the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the second Intifada, earthquakes, coups d’Etat such as the one in Haïti in 2004. «It was very violent, very violent... One time we were attacked with machetes, stones and shots fired at our vehicle.»

"The thing that’s consistent is the adrenaline that surges by a thousand times, ten thousand times, in that it’s similar. But when, at the same time, you’re risking your life, it’s a different type of adrenaline."

«At Luzhniki everything happened so quickly, in such a surprising and emotional way at the same time. What can you do, I only had time to think about clicking away and trying to capture these faces covered in joy.”

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (C) offers to help AFP photographer Yuri Cortez after he fell on him with teammates while celebrating their second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the LuzhnikCroatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (C) offers to help AFP photographer Yuri Cortez after he fell on him with teammates while celebrating their second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Yuri Cortez)

«I know that fans and a lot of people would give anything to be able to shake their hands, to have their picture taken with them.”

«I left that same evening and it took me about an hour and a half to reach the airport. And that’s when I started getting phone calls, the telephone wouldn’t stop ringing. I had to turn it off to check-in for the flight and when I turned it back on I had hundreds of missed calls. One person called 50 times ! »

«There was that explosion on social media but that’s not really my thing, I’m not a fan. My 19-year-old daughter said she was overloaded with friend requests on Facebook from people she doesn’t know but who knew that she’s my daughter. I engaged on social media at the agency’s request but, for example, I almost never use Facebook. My group of friends is small, and private. »

Croatia's players celebrate their second goal  during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between Croatia and England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILBuried... (AFP / Mladen Antonov)
Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (C-L) and Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic (C2R) speak to AFP photographer Yuri Cortez (C) after falling on him with teammates while celebrating their second goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football matc... and then freed. (AFP / Jewel Samad)

 

 

«I think I’m going to watch the final at home, or maybe with friends in a restaurant or bar. It will be a different atmosphere, without the pressures of work.

«I feel close to the Croats, I identify a little bit with them. In the final I’ll be supporting Croatia without a doubt ! Come on ! »

AFP photographer Yuri Cortez, who unwittingly became part of the celebrations of Croatia in their World Cup semi-final match against England, gestures during an interview with AFP in Mexico City on July 12, 2018.  AFP photographer Yuri Cortez, who unwittingly became part of the celebrations of Croatia in their World Cup semi-final match against England, gestures during an interview with AFP in Mexico City on July 12, 2018. (AFP / Bernardo Montoya)

 

Yuri Cortez