Yugoslavia failed to win any major footballing honour and neither subsequently have any of the nations that emerged after the break-up of the former federation. Croatia are the first of the new Balkan nations to break this trend after they sealed their place in the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday. The Vatreni have done it the hard way on their journey to the final at the Luzhniki defeating Denmark, Russia and now England in games that went to extra time with the hero last night being Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic who struck the winner in the 109th minute to make history for a nation of a population of just four million people.
Cagey first half
The evening didn't start well for Zlatko Dalić's men as a Trippier free-kick was well delivered, beat the wall and flew into the net past Subasic who was late to react to put England ahead. The rest of the half was poor with neither Croatia or England able to stamp their authority on proceedings. England sat deep and opted to aim long balls for the pacey Sterling to latch onto. Just before the break there was an appeal from the men in black for a penalty following some holding in the area but the appeal was waved away by official Çakir as the players made for the tunnel. Holding and fouls in the penalty box is still, in my opinion is one area where VAR needs to improve.
After the break, England still failed to take the match to a Croatia side who had upped their game. The dynamic of the evening changed following a fine Vrsaljko delivery which was slotted acrobatically home by Perisic (a goal that I believe could have been chalked-off for dangerous play). It's possible that Çakir wanted to make amends for the earlier decision the Turk is a fine referee but last night's performance was not one of his best. England tried to react to the adversity but it was too late, Croatia had the bit between their teeth and were the stronger side going into extra time. With ten minutes left on the clock Mandzukic took full advantage of a lack in concentration by John Stones to fire past Pickford. The "Three Lions" finished the game with ten men after Trippier pulled up and on the night the side the displayed more desire is the one that will play in Sunday's final.