History-maker Mandzukic sends Croatia into first Final

Clay Curtis
July 12, 2018

England made an electric start with Kieran Trippier's early goal and for a large period of the game looked good value to book their passage to the final for the first time since 1966, but Croatia somehow battled through their apparent jadedness and tamed the Three Lions, Mandzukic landing the decisive blow.

"Mentally strong team", midfielder Ivan Rakatic said.

Croatia nearly gave England a gift of a second when Subasic chipped a pass to Ivan Stranic, who took a nonchalant first touch straight to Sterling.

The Juventus forward netted in the 109th minute to complete a remarkable comeback from a shattered Croatian team and take the small nation of little more than four million people into the World Cup final for the first time in their short history.

Croatia will now face France in the final of the World Cup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, on the 15th July. And sure enough, Trippier struck just five minutes into the game on a gorgeous direct free kick (that keeper Danijel Subasic perhaps could have done a bit more on to save).

England and Belgium clash at the Krestovsky Stadium Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Saturday, one day before the World Cup final between France and Croatia on Sunday.

Heading into the game, we knew England had been the most unsafe team in the World Cup on set pieces, averaging almost a goal per game on them, while Croatia had conceded three of its four World Cup goals on dead-ball plays.

The fact that Croatia have had to play so much football could perhaps give England an edge, all the more so given the injury problems faced by Dalic.

How Modric reacted to being nutmegged by Dele Alli in 2015
Then, right back Lilian Thuram scored the only two goals of his career to help France beat Croatia in the semifinals. However, they are four places ahead of Sweden who England defeated 2-0 in the quarter-finals.

Mario Mandzukic became Croatia's hero when he put Croatia in front with 11 minutes to go after a great through ball from Pivaric.

But Croatia, in their first semi since 1998, leveled through Ivan Perisic after 68 minutes and then looked the more unsafe side.

The first half could hardly have gone any better. The ball popped up and Perisic outjumped Tripper to head the ball behind the defence. Mandzukic is a nightmare to play against, as Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker found out.

It was his first goal for his country, England's 12th of the tournament and ninth from a set-piece, but it should have added more from open play as it revelled in the space they were being given in the first half.

As well as scoring, Perisic also hit the post for the second straight game and set up Mandzukic's victor, heading a poor clearance toward the Juventus striker to score.

England are dreaming of a first World Cup final since 1966 but first they must come through Wednesday's semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium against Croatia in what looks like their toughest test yet in Russian Federation.

For every victor there has to be a loser and while England fell short on the day and will be thoroughly disappointed, these young Three Lions galvanised a country and won back a fan base that had been jaded by years of underachievement.

Croatia have an experienced squad and will go into the match with the belief of going the distance.

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