MOSCOW, Russia, July 12 – Croatia will play France in their first-ever World Cup final after recovering from an early setback to beat England 2-1 after extra time at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday night.
Kieran Trippier gave the English a very early lead in the Russian capital city, but after they wasted chances to extend their advantage, Croatia equalised midway through the second half before Mario Mandzukic grabbed the winner in the second period of extra time.
England could not have hoped for a better start – with just four minutes played Trippier did what he has been threatening to do throughout the tournament – score with a free kick, and he did that with a sublime curler into the top right hand corner of the net.
The game remained tight after the goal, with Harry Maguire going fairly close 10 minutes later with a header before Croatia had their first chances, halfway through the opening stanza, but Ivan Perisic fired marginally wide from the edge of the box twice in quick succession.
While Croatia gave the England defence some anxious moments on a couple of occasions, the Three Lions for the most part remained in control and should have doubled their lead on 30 minutes when Jesse Lingard played in Harry Kane, but the skipper’s shot lacked conviction and was comfortably saved by Danijel Subasic.
At the other end, Jordan Pickford kept out a shot fired straight at him by Ante Rebic, who was also prevented from pulling the trigger in front of goal a few minutes later by a fine Ashley Young tackle.
England then passed up another chance to take a two-goal cushion when Dele Alli invited an unmarked Lingard to shoot, but from a good position on the edge of the box the Manchester United man fired tamely wide.
Gareth Southgate’s team were to have the first chances of the second half as Lingard’s 56th minute shot was deflected over the bar, before Kane was prevented getting a head to a Trippier cross by an outstanding tackle by Dejan Lovren.
Croatia though were never out the game and shortly after Perisic had sounded a warning with a thunderous shot which was blocked by Kyle Walker, he levelled matters in the 68th minute after arriving at the back post to direct a cross from Marcelo Brozovic into the back of the net.
The setback for England resulted in a bit of panic in their ranks as some sloppy defending allowed Perisic in on goal again just three minutes later, and there was a fortunate escape for the Three Lions when the shot crashed into the woodwork.
More followed from a reinvigorated Croatia as Mandzukic’s volley was saved by Pickford, before Perisic fired a sharp chance over an empty net six minutes from time after the England keeper had flapped unsuccessfully at a cross.
That proved to be the last chance of regulation play as the match went into extra time.
The Three Lions had looked a bit ragged in the final minutes of regulation time, but they regrouped during the break, and nearly reclaimed the lead when John Stones’ header was cleared off the line by Sime Vrsaljko.
Croatia were also very close to scoring, but Mandzukic was denied at point blank range by a brave and outstanding save from Pickford just before the end of the first half of extra time.
The Juventus striker, however, was to make no mistake when he reacted sharply in the England box in the 109th minute to sprint onto Perisic’s flicked header before burying the most clinical of angled shots in at the far corner, taking the nation of just four million people into a first-ever World Cup final. (ANA)