Croatia sensationally cemented their first ever World Cup final with a dramatic 2-1 extra time win over a gallant England side at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital on Wednesday.
A match that became a long battle between two teams displaying warrior spirit began with a Kieran Trippier free kick within the first five minutes. That goal was cancelled out by a second half Ivan Perisic equalizer to ensure the sides were tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes.
In the end a goal from striker Mario Mandzukic in the second half of extra time provided the agonizing difference that booked Croatia a first ever World Cup final place, in which they will meet a formidable-looking ‘Les Bleus’ at the same stadium on Sunday.
England, however, who have been praised for their youthful side showing little to no fear during the biggest football showpiece on earth, showed no such early worries and attacked from the off.
After just a few minutes, Jesse Lingard showed immense flair in pirouetting over the ball before passing to Dele Alli, who was bundled over by Croatia captain Luka Modric around 20 yards out. Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir had no doubts in ordering a free-kick.
Up stepped a Kieran Trippier, so confident and steady he had been in all England’s games up until that point. That sureness never wavered and the 27-year-old curled beautifully into the top right-hand corner to leave Danijel Subasic, whom many have singled out as the best goalkeeper in the tournament so far, no chance although the Croatian stopper was at full stretch.
The goal was England’s 12th at the World Cup – more than by any other England side at a major tournament. First blood to the Three Lions.
The set piece goal may have come as a shock to most, as it did not involve the head of Harry Maguire or John Stones, and nor was it a penalty. But minutes later and Maguire, England’s center back of the moment, got his head to two corners in quick succession, first from Ashley Young from the left and then Tipper from the right to restore some normality.
Dejan Lovren showed frustration when he brought down Kane near the center circle. Moments later a weak Subasic clearance dropped to Raheem Sterling who played through captain Harry Kane, but he was well offside. The flag went up but the England skipper dragged his effort wide anyway.
Croatia did have their moments, and at the other end that innocuous wizard Luka Modric tried a run down the right flank, but his ball in cannoned out to Ante Rebic, whose powerful left-foot strike was gathered easily by Jordan Pickford.
England, however, would not be contained and Dele Alli laid the ball off to Jesse Lingard, whose placed right-footed shot went well wide. The Croatians did find their groove in parts in the first half, but they were few and far between. A poor Pickford clearance was forwarded to Rakitic, who showed glorious balance and poise to bring the ball under control, but Kyle Walker stood strong to nick the ball from the Barcelona man.
Moments later Walker was on hand to head away a free-kick, but the ball found its way to skipper Modric. Cue midfielder Jordan Henderson to step in and ease the Real Madrid playmaker off the ball. Although Croatia had a touch more of the ball in the first half with 52 percent of possession, it seemed England had contained their opponent’s two most influential players going into the break.