Mario Mandžukic produced an extra time winner to send Croatia into their first World Cup Final as they had to come from behind to overcome England 2-1.
After Kieran Trippier’s wonderful free kick (5’) had given England the lead
Croatia produced a dominating second half performance that was rewarded when Ivan Perišic found a deserved equaliser (68’). That was enough to send the teams into extra time and for Mandžukic's dramatic winner (109’).
While England remained unchanged from the side that defeated Sweden 2-0 in the quarter-finals Croatia’s coach Zlatko Dalic decided on a tactical change. He brought Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic into midfield replacing Andrej Kramaric while switching his formation in front of his back four.
Having struggled to hit the target in their last three matches England shook Croatia in only the fifth minute. Dele Ali was brought down in a central position by Luka Modric and Trippier curled the free kick over the wall giving Danijel Subašic no chance.
England had only managed a total of five attempts on target across their previous three games including a penalty but couldn’t have asked for a better start.
The Three Lions had proved to be dangerous at set pieces throughout the tournament and, in the 12th minute they got their first corner and Harry Maguire met Ashley Young’s effort but could only send his header harmlessly wide. Two minutes later and he came much closer with another header with Trippier delivering another corner from the other side of the pitch,
Croatia had their first meaningful effort at goal in the 19th minute when Ivan Perišic was afforded some space down the left but his long range effort took a slight deflection before passing wide of Jordan Pickford’s left upright.
Raheem Sterling’s pace had caused team’s problems through the World Cup and in the 24th minute he almost broke through the Croatian defence with a lively burst through the middle. It was pace again a few moments later that saw Jesse Lingard break down the right but his pass was behind the two strikers and a promising situation went begging.
England had been hoping that the agility of their youthful side would work in their favour. Seven of their starting line up was 25 or younger while Croatia’s average age was 29. The Vatreni had played two matches in the previous six days and both had gone into extra time and there was a question as to whether they would be able to match England’s stamina.
With England continuing to cause more threats Harry Kane twice came close to scoring but both chances were flagged as offside. He put his first chance wide after breaking through the defence while the second effort struck the post before spinning across the face of the goal after Subašic had saved his first attempt.
In the 32nd minute some good work down the right culminated in Ante Rebic striking a shot from 20 metres but straight at Pickford.
England may well have gone two up in the 36th minute. Some fine work by Kane saw him draw defenders and he gave the chance for Dele Ali to square the ball to Lingard who had found plenty of space in the edge of the area. He had time to pick his spot but simply placed the ball well wide of the right hand post.
Following a spell of possession Šime Vrsaljko struck the ball from distance well over Pickford’s bar when other options were available. However, with one minute to go to half-time England’s goalkeeper made a hash of a clearance and Ivan Rakitic was able to weave his way into the penalty area. He was about to unleash his shot when some brilliant defending by Kyle Walker dispossessed him.
England’s single strike on target during the first half was enough to give them a 1-0 lead going into the half-time break.
The second half started quietly with England slowing the game down and it wasn’t until the 56th minute before the first chance was created. Lingard’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected for a corner.
Croatia’s continuing dominance almost paid off in the 63rd minute when Perišic’s shot was blocked by Kyle Walker with Pickford sprawling to save. Five minutes later and Perišic got the equaliser they deserved. After a fine cross by Vrsaljko Croatia’s number 4 got in front of Walker and steered the ball past Pickford.
Four minutes later and he came so close to turning the match around completely. His left foot shot beat Pickford but came off the inside of the post and the follow up effort fell into the hands of England’s goalkeeper.
Croatia were now in complete control and England looked rattled. Gareth Southgate had to do something and he brought on Marcus Rashford for Sterling.
England had created little during the second period and when Lingard broke free in the 77th minute there was no-one to meet his cross and it went harmlessly across the face of the goalmouth.
England’s defence seemed all at sea at times and another error almost led to Croatia taking the lead but when the ball fell to him Perišic couldn’t keep his shot down with an open goal beckoning.
A rare opportunity went begging for England with four minutes left in normal time when Kane failed to find Lingard who had made a run into space in the inside right channel.
With Croatia to face extra time for the third time in a week Southgate brought on Danny Rose to replace a tiring Ashley Young at left back.
It took eight minutes of the extra period to create the first real opportunity. Eric Dier had just come on for Henderson when his shot was blocked after he was fed by Rose who had made a strong forward run.
Croatia had created little and were clearly tiring but in time added on during the first period Pickford came to England’s rescue. Mandžukic connected first when one-on-one with the Everton goalkeeper after Perišic found space down the left and sent the perfect cross into the path of the centre forward. Pickford somehow kept the ball out with Mandžukic requiring treatment after the collision.
England didn’t learn from that mistake. In the 109th minute they were again found wanting at the back. A header over the top of a static defence found Mandžukic with time to pick his spot and place his shot into the corner of the net past a diving Pickford.
Things went from bad to worse for England when they were reduced to ten men with Trippier limping off after they had used all of their substitutes.
As they pushed forward for an equaliser they were leaving plenty of space at the back and substitute Kramaric should have sealed the win when he only had Pickford to beat but he blasted the ball into the side netting.
England’s ten men had one last opportunity. In the final minute of the game Rashford sent a free kick into the penalty area but none of his team-mates could get to the ball and with that the final whistle blew and Croatia had achieved their dream.