England’s dreams of a second World Cup trophy were shattered on Wednesday night as they suffered a 2-1 loss after extra time at the hands of Croatia in Moscow.
For the third match in a row ‘The Blazers’ needed extra time, but unlike against Denmark and Russia, Zlatko Dalic’s side weren’t put through the agony of a penalty shootout and instead secured outright victory thanks to a 109th minute strike from Mario Mandzukic.
England got off to a dream start, with right wingback Kieran Trippier opening the scoring in the fifth minute with a superb strike direct from a free kick. His first international goal arrived after Dele Alli had been fouled just outside the penalty area.
The Three Lions went on to dominate the remainder of the first half though they were unable to add to their advantage. The best chance to do so arrived on the half hour mark when Harry Kane was presented with only the goalkeeper to beat, but Danijel Subasic made a fine save.
Croatia’s attack offered little threat, especially from open play, with their only notable effort on goal a left-footed strike from Ante Rebic in the 31st minute which was well hit but comfortably saved by Jordan Pickford.
Another notable chance for ‘The Blazers’ arrived in the 65th minute as Ivan Perisic latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and sent a shot goal-ward, but Kyle Walker got his body in the way to make a brave block.
But just three minutes later Walker was caught ball-watching, as he allowed Perisic to get ahead of him, meet Sime Vrsaljko’s cross and turn it home with his left foot to make it 1-1 midway through the second half.
In the 72nd minute Perisic once again threatened, using some fine footwork to open up space for a low shot which got the better of Pickford but was denied by the upright – the rebound found Rebic, but he couldn’t put Croatia into the lead.
The Eastern Europeans bossed the remainder of normal time, but the 1-1 score line called for an extra 30 minutes. Nine minutes into extra time England almost reclaimed the lead: a corner kick saw John Stones power a header on target, but Vrsaljko was well placed to clear the effort off his own goal line.
Croatia created a great chance in injury time at the end of the first half, with Perisic’s great cross finding Mario Mandzukic in front of goal, but Pickford came quickly off his line to make a crucial and courageous block.
Yet Mandzukic wasn’t to be denied: in the 109th minute he took advantage of some sloppy marking from Stones, ran onto a header into the box from Perisic and fired a shot beyond the England ‘keeper to put ‘The Blazers’ 2-1 ahead.
The veteran striker’s goal was enough to see Croatia into their first World Cup final, where they will take on France on Sunday at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. For England, the disappointment of the third-place playoff against Belgium in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
Croatia (0) (1) 2 (Perisic 68’, Mandzukic 109’) - after extra time
England (1) (1) 1 (Trippier 5’)
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pivaric 95’), Rakitic, Brozovic, Perisic, Modric (Badelj 119’), Rebic (Kramaric 101’), Mandzukic (Corluka 115’)
England: Pickford, Walker (Vardy 112’), Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Henderson (Dier 97’), Alli, Lingard, Young (Rose 91’), Sterling (Rashford 74’), Kane