Croatia 2-1 England
Croatia will be in the World Cup 2018 final after a battling display saw them come from behind to beat England in a pulsating semi-final.
After Kieran Trippier had given the Young Lions the lead, Ivan Perisic hauled Croatia back into the game before Mario Mandzukic scored a dramatic extra-time winner. And that sets up a cracking final against France on Sunday.
It seemed like England had made a smart move, playing their reserves against Belgium and losing a game which left them with a favourable route to the semi-finals. But they couldn’t quite see off an experienced Croatia side that showed a lot of fight.
Highlights of the game
The game exploded into life on five minutes when Jesse Lingard spun brilliantly to sneak a ball through for Dele Alli, who was brought down by Luka Modric some 25 yards out. Croatia keeper Danijel Subasic built a wall to the right and as he swayed to the left, but Kieran Trippier curled a beauty up and over the wall and into the top corner.
Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic said his team would play without fear against England, which in itself suggested they had something to be scared of. The latest World Cup 2018 odds agreed, placing Croatia as clear outsiders.
And his team had played two gruelling extra-time and penalty shootouts already; Dalic needed to see some real bravery.
But in the first half, it was England who continued to show adventure until Croatia had a spell of possession leading to Perisic firing their first shot a yard wide. Then Subasic gifted England a good chance with a shocking clearance, which Ivan Rakitic failed to control. But Raheem Sterling slipped the ball through to an offside Harry Kane.
Kane has the Golden Boot in his grasp, with six goals in the first five games, and England’s talisman and captain had dared to say the Three Lions could win the World Cup before the tournament had even started, though that idea wasn’t high on the list of us tips! He might have been right, but he missed a gold-plated chance to make it two when Lingard played him in, only for the skipper’s low shot to be saved by Subasic, and his follow up hit the post from a tight angle.
Ante Rebic reminded England they were in a game, stinging Jordan Pickford’s hands with a fierce drive, then Lingard shot just wide as play swung to the other end.
England went in at half-time one up when it could easily have been more.
In the first big moment of the second period, Trippier almost found Kane with a brilliant first-time cross but Dejan Lovren was on hand to clear.
Croatia had more of the ball though England retained a threat: Sterling weaved into the box, but Domagoj Vida just got his foot to the ball. Then, Kyle Walker made a brave block to deny Perisic at the other end.
Dalic was getting the courage he wanted and with it paid off a quarter of the game remaining, as that man Perisic rose to volley home a cross from Sime Vrsaljko. And it was almost 2-1 to Croatia moments later as Perisic was denied by the post. England was rattled.
Mandzukic latched on to a long ball but volleyed straight at Pickford, and then Kane had a chance with his head, but fluffed it, with the last big play of normal time.
John Stones thought he’d put England back in front but his powerful header was cleared off the line by Vrsaljko in the first period of extra time, and then Pickford made a brilliant save to deny Mandzukic.
But when the England defence began to look leggy, a harmless-looking header looped into their penalty area and Mandzukic stole in behind Stones to fire the ball past Pickford to make it 2-1.
It’s only the second meeting between England and Croatia at a major tournament, England winning the first by 4-2 at Euro 2004.
Both teams had been free-scoring in the run-up to this game, and now both have 12, a record in the World Cup for the Three Lions.
With an average starting age of 25 in the tournament, England’s youthful energy couldn’t see off the experienced Croatia with an average age of 29.
Croatia lost only one of seven knockout games in the World Cup, against France, but in five attempts they are still to beat their final opposition.
Few predicted these two teams would make the last four, but they were here on merit. And now, Gareth Southgate’s England can take a well-earned trip to the beach before the rigours of league football returns.
But it’s one more game for Croatia in the World Cup final where Didier Deschamps’ France await. And that is some test.
After winning their group with ease, Les Bleus went on to beat Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium, the conquerors of Brazil.
The French are hoping to win the World Cup for the first time in 20 years; for Croatia, it’s a first appearance in the Final.
It’s the biggest game of the year and it’s going to be a cracker; so make sure you keep up to date with all the World Cup 2018 news here at us as the momentous day approaches!
CHECK OUT OUR BLOG FOR MORE WORLD CUP 2018 STORIES & ODDS
Stay updated with everything sports and betting.
Follow us on social Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.