Croatia 2-1 England: match report
Croatia are through to the first World Cup final, and their first major tournament final, after beating England in extra-time in Moscow on Wednesday night.
England were first out of the blocks when Dele Alli was fouled by Luka Modric. Kieran Trippier whipped the free-kick over the wall and into the back of the net before Croatia could get out of neutral. There were five minutes gone and Croatia were fighting up uphill battle after two games that had gone to penalties before the clash against England.
They stuck to their gameplan and when everyone was calling for changes, Zlatko Dalic didn't flinch. Inexplicably, England backed off and let Croatia grow into the game. For the entire second half, Croatia were running through England and knocking on the door. They eventually got the breakthrough when Vrsaljko crossed to Perisic and he poked home to level matter.
The game ebbed and flowed from that point and always seemed destined for extra-time. When we did get an extra 30 minutes, it was Mario Mandzukic, who ended things in the second half when he pounced on a loose ball and stroked beyond Jordan Pickford.
England had no choice but to throw caution to the wind but it was too little too late. Croatia shut up shop and were not going to let their chance to play in a World Cup final. England have impressed massively in their approach this World Cup but ultimately fall short with the youngest side in the tournament. There will be bright days ahead for Southgate's crew but it's Croatia who move on now to the decider on Sunday against France.
Croatia vs England live online: updates | World Cup 2018
Croatia vs England live online: preview | World Cup 2018
England are aiming to make their first World Cup final since 1966 and Croatia their first ever major tournament decider. On Wednesday night, we will find out who joins France in this World Cup's final game on Sunday afternoon in Moscow after they beat Belgium on Tuesday night. Kick-off from the Luzhniki is at 20:00 CEST on 11 July 2018 in what will be a historic evening regardless of the result.
Croatia have come through a couple of difficult games and a tough group to get them started. They needed penalties in both of their knockout games against Denmark and Russia most recently. Mario Mandzukic, who was visibly gassed at the end of that Russia clash, says Croatia will muster more energy and says they are ready for the challenge they face with an in-form Jordan Pickford between the sticks, "We've seen that he is doing very well at the World Cup. He has good potential and I'm sure he has a bright future. [But] I believe someone will find a way to surprise him." Danijel Subasic says he will play through the pain barrier after suffering an injury to his hamstring in extra-time of the quarter-final. Sime Vrsaljko is out for Croatia after the right-back went down during the Russia game and had to go off. The Atlético Madrid defender will be hard to replace given what he offers going forward for Zlatko Dalic's team. Regardless, Luka Modric is the man England will have to stop. Dalic thinks he is playing the best football of his career and it's hard to argue. With no obvious Balon d'Or contender, Modric has emerged as a potential outsider and Eric Dier says England have to be wary of the 'world class' midfield magician.
English fans around the world have talked themselves into the idea that football is "coming home." They played it smart during the group stages with wins over Tunisia and Panama. They lost to Belgium in that final group game which left them with the theoretically easier path to a potential final. That rest many of the players were afforded against the Red Devils might come in very handy on Wednesday night too despite being brought to penalties by Colombia. They saw off a stagnant Sweden challenge in the quarter-finals and are full of confidence heading into Wednesday's clash. In terms of injuries and suspensions, Gareth Southgate will likely have Jordan Henderson, who has recently been praising his manager's approach, manning the center of his midfield despite suffering from a tight hamstring recently but Jamie Vardy remains out having suffered a groin injury against Colombia in the last 16 tie.
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