Croatia rallies past England to reach World Cup final

Doug Mendoza
July 12, 2018

England, who were hoping to reach their first World Cup final since their golden year of 1966, will play Belgium in Saturday's third-place match.

Mario Mandzukic fired in Croatia's second goal in the 109th minute, sending the team towards World Cup victory.

Ivan Perisic levelled and Mario Mandzukic secured a 2-1 win in extra-time, propelling the country to a first World Cup final as England's manager wondered what could have been - 22 years on from his semi-final heartache at Euro 96.

It was looking good for England in its quest to reach its first final since winning it all in 1966, after Kieran Trippier scored on a fifth-minute free kick.

In the other four games, Croatia's only variable to its 4-2-3-1 formation was whether to start captain Luka Modric in a deep midfield role and Andrej Kramaric more advanced, or to move up Modric and start Marcelo Brozovic.

Croatia heads into this game on the back of penalty shootout wins over Denmark and Russian Federation in the last-16 and quarter-final stages.

Even Wednesday night's meeting with Croatia was deemed the "easy" semifinal, given World Cup finalist France were on the side of the bracket with Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and Uruguay. And sure enough, Trippier struck just five minutes into the game on a gorgeous direct free kick (that keeper Danijel Subasic perhaps could have done a bit more on to save).

Perhaps he has a point about England resorting to long ball up field when Croatia pressed them, but Southgate's players can still be hugely proud of what they've achieved this summer.

However, Croatia then suddenly sparked into life.

It is the first time in 28 years that they made the last four with the previous visit coming during the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

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The best chance for a second goal, however, was wasted by an unmarked Jesse Lingard when he curled wide when a goal looked certain.

England paid the price for those misses when Perisic showed great determination to get in front of Kyle Walker to meet a Sime Vrsaljko cross and though his boot was high and he threw an anxious glance at the referee, Walker was stooping and there were few complaints.

"We're gutted. It hurts, it hurts a lot", Kane said after the match at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Croatia will be the smallest nation to play the final match of a World Cup since Uruguay won the 1950 tournament when they face France on Sunday, after recovering through a second-half Ivan Perisic volley and Mario Mandzukic's victor deep into extra time.

A late Croatia onslaught was unable to complete the turnaround in 90 minutes and England stepped things up again in extra-time, nearly retaking the lead when John Stones had a header cleared off the line by Vrsaljko in the 98th minute.

With his first global goal, just over a year after his England debut, the 27-year-old Trippier joined David Beckham as the only English players since 1966 to score on free kicks at the World Cup. "So tonight we weren't quite there, but the team will be stronger for that".

"The biggest thing that the gaffer's brought since he's come in, which he's brought right from day one, was identity, and about the way that we wanted to create a team, " Henderson said.

"Until they scored [the equaliser] we were always under cosh", Kane said.

"We are where we are as a team", Southgate told ITV Sport.

Other reports by GizPress

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