Croatia ended England’s World Cup campaign on Wednesday night with a 2-1 win at the Luznikhy Stadium, Moscow to set up a final on Sunday against 1998 world champions France.
Mario Mandzukic scored a late winner in extra time after Ivan Perisic restored the hopes of the eastern Europeans following Kevin Trippier’s goal for England from a free kick.
England and Croatia had met once before at a major tournament before Wednesday’s match – England won 4-2 in a group stage match at Euro 2004.
Croatia have reached the World Cup semi-finals for the second time since their first World Cup participation in 1998, which is more than the likes of Argentina, England, Italy, Portugal and Spain (one each). The only European nations with more semi-final appearances in this period (inc. 2018) are Germany (four), France (three) and Netherlands (three).
Trippier scored a sumptuous fifth minute free kick goal which Danijel Subasic could not reach. It was the first international goal for the Tottenham Hotspur right back.
England were the more dominant side and twice came close to scoring but the offside flag was at the rescue of the Croats.
Ante Rebic was the more threatening of the Croatian forwards and it was in the 33rd minute that they constructed something of note but the Three Lions’ defenders thwarted his goal bound shot from close range.
Ivan Perisic’s 63rd minute shot in the England box was blocked by Kyle Walker which left him writhing in pain and needing some treatment and the game temporarily halted.
Perisic’s endeavour then paid off five minutes later as he stabbed home a Sime Vrssaljko cross with Walker risking his head as he attempted to nod the ball out.
The goal stood and to the relief of the Inter Milan forward there was no ruling out the strike on the ground of dangerous play.
Perisic made himself a nuisance and together with Rakitic troubled the English defence soon afterwards. Perisic’s low shot hit the foot of the post but Pickford gathered a direct shit fired at him from Rebic’s rebound.
The game went into extra time after 1-1 at full time and Vrsalko nodded away a 98th minute header by John Stones from a corner.
Mario Mandzukic almost put his team ahead but Pickford made himself big and saved bravely in the six yard box.
The Juventus man was hurt by Pickford’s challenge and the referee soon blew for the end of the first half of extra time.
Mandzukic scored Croatia’s second goal in the 109th minute as he pounced on a Perisic header to unleash an unstoppable left footed strike from the near post eleven minutes to the end of the 120 minutes period.
The striker was withdrawn as he continued to nurse his injury and was replaced by veteran defender Vedran Corluka. Milan Badelj of Fiorentina replaced the Croatian captain Luka Modric.
Kramaric side netted his 119th minute shot although Perisic was well placed to cause damage.
By Izuchukwu Okosi