By Nick Butler |
Croatia recovered from a goal down to beat England 2-1 in Moscow to set up a first FIFA World Cup final with France.
Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute of the semifinal at the Luzhniki Stadium as he slotted home from an Ivan Perisic flick-on deep into extra time.
It came at the end of a gripping encounter in which the quality of Croatia’s midfield eventually wore down the tenacity of their English opponents.
England, chasing a first World Cup final place since their home victory in 1966, enjoyed a perfect start courtesy of a superb 20-year free kick by impressive right back Kieran Trippier.
England had chances to double its advantage before the interval when Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard each spurned good opportunities.
Croatia, galvanized by a Luca Modric-marshaled midfield, returned stronger after the break and eventually equalized through Ivan Perisic.
The Inter Milan midfielder arrived ahead of Kyle Walker to athletically flick home from a cross.
Croatia became increasingly dominant thereafter and had a chance to win in normal time before Jordan Pickford saved brilliantly from Mandzukic.
Cue a third successive extra time for Croatia and a second in three knockout matches for England.
It was the Eastern European side who appeared stronger, however, with England reduced to 10-men when Trippier limped off with a groin injury when all the substitutions were used.
Mandzukic reacted quicker than John Stones to pounce on a loose ball and punish a tiring defence by firing home.
Croatia will now face favorites France in the same venue on Sunday (July 15) following its semifinal victory over Belgium.
It marks their first World Cup final appearance to improve on third place in the 1998 edition won by the French hosts.
England will have to be content with a third-place playoff against the Belgians on Saturday (July 14) at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.