World Cup: Croatia reach first final beat England

MOSCOW: Croatia reached the World Cup final for the first time in their history on Wednesday (Jul 11), after Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time winner prolonged England’s suffering in major tournaments and set up a decider against France.

Luka Modric’s team fell behind in just the fifth minute to Kieran Trippier’s superb free-kick but hit back through Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic to win a tense contest 2-1 in front of 78,000 fans in the Luzhniki Stadium.

In beating Gareth Southgate’s young team, Croatia – a country of just four million people – have surpassed the achievements of the heroes of 1998, who reached the semi-finals in France.

Croatia’s players celebrated wildly in front of their supporters in Moscow while in Zagreb tens of thousands of fans poured onto the streets and squares, singing and waving red-white-and-blue flags.

Having led for over an hour, the defeat will be difficult for England to digest as their hopes of reaching a first World Cup final since 1966 were crushed, but their young team have won many admirers in Russia.

Croatia must recover quickly for Sunday’s showpiece – no easy feat after being taken to extra-time for a third consecutive match.

“It was a very difficult game, we all know what at stake, how important a semi-final is for a small country like Croatia,” said man-of-the-match Perisic.

“We started slowly but we’ve shown our character, just as we have in the previous two knockout rounds when we were one goal down in both matches. We didn’t used to be that resilient.

“Twenty years ago I was back home in Omis, my home town. I rooted for Croatia, wearing a Croatia jersey, and I could only dream of playing for my country and scoring one of the most important goals to send us to a final.”

Croatia’s players celebrated wildly in front of their fans, while in their capital Zagreb firecrackers and flares were set off and people roared with joy.

Croatia started to find their range in the second half and Perisic levelled for Croatia in the 68th minute, nipping ahead of Kyle Walker to steer home Sime Vrsaljko’s cross past a diving Jordan Pickford.

The game went into strength-sapping extra-time and Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute, sweeping the ball low past Pickford after Perisic’s header back into the area caught the England defence on the hop.

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