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Croatia set-up a mouth-watering clash with France in their first World Cup final after coming from behind to dash England’s dreams with a 2-1 extra-time victory at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Mario Mandzukic made the difference, scoring the winner in the extra time after the full-time failed to produce any winner. It looked like England would continue their dream after taking an early lead. Kieran Trippier scored a stunning free-kick to fire his team to the lead in the fifth minute. However, Ivan Perisic forced extra-time by scoring the equaliser on 68 minutes.
And just when it looked a penalty shoot-out would decide the game, Mandzukic capitalised on a brief lapse in the English defence. Croatia then held on to register the biggest win in their football history so far. They will now take on high-flying France in the title-decider.
On the other hand, Gareth Southgate’s men will fight it out against Belgium in Saturday’s third-place play-off.
The young English team started the proceedings on a stunning note as Trippier fired home a delightful 20-yard free-kick into the Croatian net. England continued to dominate while Croatia failed to find their rhythm early on. Croatia took 19 minutes to register their first attempt.
England nearly got the reward for their dominant display. The Three Lions should have doubled their lead on the half-hour mark. However, Danijel Subasic denied Harry Kane from a Jesse Lingard through pass after which the England captain struck the rebound against the post.
Croatia soon woke up from their slumber as England needed a last-gasp block from John Stones to cut out an Ante Rebic’s cross. Jesse Lingard then missed a glorious chance to double England’s lead when he fired wide from the edge of the box. The first half ended with England holding an one-goal advantage.
Croatia started on a good note after the break but were still tested by England. Dejan Lovren had to prevent a Lingard volley from finding the target and a Trippier cross from reaching Kane on 58 minutes. It, however, did not stop the Croatians from attacking and they duly got their reward. In the 68th minute, Perisic poked Sime Vrsaljko’s whipped cross beyond Jordan Pickford.
Four minutes later, Perisic had the chance to fire Croatia ahead but his effort hit the inside of the post. Harry Kane had the chance to send England through in stoppage-time but he headed a relatively easy chance wide.
In the extra time, Vrsaljko headed a goal-bound John Stones header off the line before Pickford made a stunning save to deny Mandzukic. However, England soon paid the price for missing their early chances when Mandzukic capitalised on a defending lapse and scored the winner with a low drive into the bottom corner.