England’s coming home dream dies at the hands of Croatia. The Croats outlasted England through their third straight extra time win to move onto the World Cup Final.
Croatia Outlast England
The First Half
England couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Dele earned a foul on Luka Modric at the top of the box. And up stepped Kieran Trippier of all people, who apparently has a wicked right foot. Because he shaped a perfect free kick over the wall and into the top corner, no chance for Croatian goalie Danijel Subasic, 1-0.
From then it became a half of counter punches. Croatia would go down the field and England would try to hit them on the counter, and then Croatia would come right back. The game opened up into long balls bypassing the midfield. That became a huge advantage for England who are much the better team with space to play. Sterling, Lingard and Alli spent the whole first half terrorizing Lovren & Vida.
It also went a long way to neutralizing Croatia’s two biggest threats; Modric & Rakitic. They were unable to create any serious opportunities and had virtually zero impact on the entire first half. It was the type of half where England had to hope they would not be made to rue the missed chances at putting the game away.
The Second Half
The second half started with more of the same. England and Croatia continued to go end to end trading shots and half chances. Until Croatia were able to get their real chance. A bad giveaway at the back left Sime Vrsaljko with the ball on the right side. He whipped in an outstanding cross met by Ivan Perisic whose mid-air flying volley on the outside of his foot scored the equalising goal, 1-1.
Persic got a big run on Kyle Walker and before Walker even knew it Perisic had jumped in front of him and scored the goal. It was a huge blow to England because from there Croatia began to percolate. They managed to find a couple more chances, none bigger than another shot from Perisic, this time it went off the post.
But England were able to persevere and survive. They kept Croatia out of their net and made it to extra time. And again they preserved the match and kept Croatia out of their net for the first half of extra time. But they could not keep the Croatians at bay forever.
In the 109′ Kyle Walker blocked a cross high into the air, and Ivan Perisic headed the ball into the space behind the England backline. There was no target other than the space available. But Mario Mandzukic saw that space, Mario Mandzukic attacked that space. And Mario Mandzukic scored from that space. A nothing ball was finished into the back of the net, 2-1.
Mandzukic is a poacher, Mandzukic is a bit of a prima donna. But above all else, Mario Mandzukic is a big game player. Many reading this will remember his outstanding overhead goal for Juventus in the Champions League final two years ago. Mario Mandzukic shows up when his team needs him when his country needs him.
A few moments after the goal, Kieran Trippier limped off the field and England were forced to play the rest of extra time down a man, a death sentence. Croatia saw the game out and they moved on to the World Cup final.
The second smallest nation ever to make a World Cup Croatia did not even exist the last time England played on this stage. The former Yugoslavian nation has quietly built a golden generation of outstanding talent that shined so brightly on this night. Whether or not they can beat France in the final is another question, now it’s just their turn to enjoy the moment.
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