New Delhi: ‘It’s coming home…’ chants grew louder and clearer from English fans as England stood on the threshold of realising their long-awaited dream. The Three Lions were on the verge of reaching their first-ever final in 52 years, before Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time goal scripted their agonising defeat at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday night (July 11). The 2-1 win for Croatia at the end of 120 minutes of action sent the Balkans to their first-ever World Cup final.
Outclassing Sweden in the quarters, Gareth Southgate’s men stepped into their first semi-final in World Cup history since 1990 Italia. For Croatia, it was the second in five World Cup appearances, 1998 being their first.
England took off to a perfect start when Kieran Trippier’s 20-yard free-kick curled past a diving Subasic five minutes into the game, however, the effort was equalised by Ivan Perisic in the 68th minute taking the game into the extra time.
After a tensed first period, Croatia found the breakthrough when Mandzukic struck home off a Perisic’s flick in the 109th minute and the remaining 10 minutes witnessed failed efforts from the Three Lions until the final whistle put an end to England’s ‘It’s coming home…’ chants.
Here are four talking points about the England versus Croatia FIFA World Cup 2018 semifinal at the Luzhiniki Stadium on Wednesday…
1) Mandzukic silences English crowd: 19 minutes into the extra time, England failed to clear the ball near the edge of the box as Perisic outjumped Trippier to flick a header to the left of Madzukic. John Stones was left unaware of the looming danger as the Juventus striker appeared from behind and slotted the ball past Jordan Pickford. A defensive error and Croatia capitalised and how costly did it prove!
2) The Harry Kane blunder: England had a glorious chance to go 2-0 up at the half-hour mark and it was skipper Kane who had the opportunity to strike his seventh goal in the tournament. Dele Alli and Lingard engaged in some excellent bulid up at the edge of the box, before playing it Kane on the left. But the Tottenham Hotspur striker played it weak as Subasic saved the effort and the ball bounced back to Kane. He now had a tighter angle in front of him but instead hit the bar. The linesman had declared his effort as off-side although it being on-side, ergo Kane let go of a wonderful opportunity to take England ahead.
3) The late Croatian buildup: If the Balkans have shown one sign in this edition of World Cup, then it has been their late buildup of a performance in each of their matches. In fact, even Diego Maradona had cautioned Croatia about the same through his exclusive column in Times of India, but on Wednesday night, it was this very sign that paid off.
The game started off with English dominating both, possession and creating chances. The game however changed as each minute unravelled in Moscow made the Croatian side look tireless against struggling young England. By the end of 120 minutes of action, Luka Modric’s side had 22 attempts at goal with 12 being on target, as against England’s 11 in total.
4) Moment of History: Croatia became the first team in 20 years of World Cup history to win a semi-final from 0-1 down. France had achieved this mark last in 1998 against Croatia. For the Balkans, it is their first-ever World Cup final in five appearances. They are the third first-timers in 40 years after France (1998) and Spain (2010).