England’s dream run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup finally came to an end with a determined Croatia side getting the better of them in their semi-final by viritue of a 2-1 win in extra-time on Wednesday night at the Luznhiki Stadium.
The Vatreni, who had fallen at the semi-final stage of the 1998 edition, were down early in the tie thanks to a sumptuous free-kick from Three Lions wing-back Kieran Tripper and in the first-half it looked like they were still feeling the exertions of their back-to-back penalty shootout wins.
After playing 120 minutes twice in a span of a week, Croatia were feeling a bit leggy as the first-half started but with Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard spurning some good chances, the score read 1-0 in favour to Gareth Southgate’s men at half-time.
Post the interval, the Eastern European nation started to come back into the tie and with service to Kane virtually non-existent, it only looked like a matter of time before Jordan Pickford’s goal was breached.
Match referee Cuneyt Cakir, no stranger to controversy, was pretty lenient on the night and his decision to deem Croatia’s equaliser legal will be a topic of debate in the weeks to come.
Fullback Sime Vrsaljko’s cross was intended for Ivan Perisic and with Kyle Walker stooping to head the ball, the Inter Milan winger stuck his leg out to guide the deftest of finishes past Pickford with 22 minutes left in the tie.
From then on, Croatia started to really dominate and ideally should have clinched the tie in the regulation 90 minutes but somehow Perisic’s shot cannoned off the post and Ante Rebic couldn’t convert the rebound barely minutes after equalising.
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Pickford, who has been one of the outstanding players of the tournament, was keeping England in the tie and the as the match official signalled for extra time, one could have been forgiven for thinking penalties were on the cards.
For Perisic proved to be their bane once again as he nodded on the ball for the ever-alert Mario Mandzukic to rifle home in the 109th minute.
The writing was on the wall for England, for Trippier exited the tie soon after with an injury and with all their substitutions used up, they would finish the match with 10 men.
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Croatia weathered whatever the Three Lions threw at them, which wasn’t much to be honest, to hold on for a historic win.
A ‘fresh’ France side await in the final on Sunday, but one can bet top dollar that Zlatko Dalic and his men will give it their all in a bid to upset Les Blues.