Mandzukic ends England’s World Cup dream as Croatia march on
Gareth Southgate’s side fade in the second half after Kieran Trippier’s stunning free-kick
Mario Mandzukic scores Croatia’s second in extra time of the World Cup semi-final against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Photograph: Darren Staples/Inpho
Croatia 2 England 1 (aet; 1-1 after 90 mins)
After a first semi-final that could have have been played in a St Petersburg park without waking the neighbours, the fans of these two turned out to make a racket in Moscow. They took it in turns, in fact, as they watched the fortunes of their sides shift in a game that lacked the more clinical cut and thrust of the night before but provided its fair share of excitement as Croatia came from behind to win.
They move on to face France in the final while England . . . well, they’re going home, or might as well be, at least.
It was a brave effort by Gareth Southgate’s young side but the questions about their ability to deal with a genuinely good side were addressed here. Perhaps the “nice” tag came back to haunt them too because Croatia seemed to push them around slightly from beginning to end, even if it was the second half of normal time before they started to actually outplay them.
Mario Mandzukic got the extra-time goal that ultimately decided it, with John Stones asleep for just that split second it took the veteran striker to steal a yard and turn Ivan Perisic’s header home.
England still, it seemed, had time to chase a late goal of their own but an injury to Kieran Trippier after they had made all of their substitutions left them short handed and fatally handicapped through the closing minutes. If anything, Croatia might have had another. For a team, whose reputation is built on the back of its players’ technical ability, it had taken Zlatko Dalic’s men a very long time here to start showing any sort of fluency on the ball but when they eventually did the toll it took on their opponents showed quickly enough.
England lost any early momentum and dropped deep in numbers to defend the lead they had taken early on while the Croatians, Marcelo Brozovic, at the heart of things, assumed control of midfield and, with it, the game.
Luka Modric shone too after a decidedly slow start with his first real mark the clumsy bundling into Dele Alli on the edge of the area that led to the free for the opening goal.
It was a terrible position to concede in, right on the edge of the D, and Trippier took full advantage, lifting his shot perfectly over the wall and sending it close enough to the top right-hand corner to leave Danijel Subasic no chance of making the save. After Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker, the 27-year-old is now the third Englishman to have scored in a World Cup semi-final. But like Lineker, who celebrated the goal in the stands as though he had scored this one himself too, there will be no crack at the far greater glory of becoming a World Cup winner.
Had the English been more ruthless from play, the whole affair might have been beyond Croatia before they really started to play. After a quiet game last Saturday against the Swedes, it seemed hard to believe here that Harry Kane is the front runner for the Golden Boot.
He missed a couple of clear-cut chances, the best of them in the first half when his tame effort allowed Subasic to save, after which Kane clipped the post from a tight angle with his follow up. The second was a header late on when his team-mates desperately needed him to rediscover his touch.
Jesse Lingard did no better when presented with a chance of his own and England will look back on the missed opportunities with some regret.
Croatia, at that stage, were living dangerously but gradually they began to get their passing game together and when they eventually found their range in the final third the danger Perisic could pose as he lurked at the edge of the area became fully apparent.
Kyle Walker got in the way of the Croatian’s first driven effort but as he crouched a little to head clear minutes later, the attacker swung his boot at the ball in mid air and Jordan Pickford never really stood a chance.
Southgate’s side did rather well to keep things level in the spell that followed and it finally began to look as though the manager was onto something all of those times when he sought to emphasise his squad’s lack of hard-won experience in the business end of big tournaments. Their opponents simply seemed to have a little more know-how and though there were chances at both ends before it was decided, the English side’s edge seemed to be blunted by more determined and resourceful opponents, with uncertainty creeping into their game, especially around their own area.
Their coach may well be right about this being a group with the potential to learn from the experience and go again in two or four years. That, though, will be of little consolation as they prepare to face Belgium in a third-place playoff.
After yet another exhausting effort, Croatia at least, have rather more to pick themselves up for again.
CROATIA (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pivaric, 95 mins); Rakitic, Brozovic; Rebic (Kramaric, 101 mins), Modric (Badelj, 118 mins), Perisic; Mandzukic (Corluka, 115 mins). Booked: Mandzukic, Rebic.
ENGLAND (3-5-2): Pickford; Walker (Vardy, 112 mins), Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli, Henderson (Dier, 97 mins), Lingard, Young (Rose, 91 mins); Sterling (Rashford, 74 mins), Kane. Booked: Walker.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).