Croatia became the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup Final after beating England 2-1. It had looked like football was coming home for long periods of the global showcase, but alas it ended in heartbreak.
It was truly a game of two halves as England raced to an early lead and then comfortably silenced Croatia for the rest of the half, but then were pinned back for most of the second half, and extra time too.
DREAM START FOR ENGLAND!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 11, 2018
Trippier beats Subašić on the free kick to put the Three Lions up 1-0 early against Croatia! pic.twitter.com/em1IQ9SRml
England’s midfield did very well putting the shackles on Real Madrid superstar Luka Modric, allowing him no space or time on the ball. At halftime it looked like the remaining forty-five minutes would just be a formality but Zlatko Dalić had other ideas.
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As the clock started to wind down in the second half though, Croatia started piling on the pressure probing the wings. England’s three-man backline was under siege for long periods with the Croats probing with long diagonal balls followed by crosses into the center.
It was no surprise that the equalizer came from a similar cross too as Ivan Perisic got ahead of Kyle Walker and Jordan Pickford was no match for the redirect.
CROATIA EQUALIZE!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 11, 2018
Ivan Perišić beats Kyle Walker to the ball to pull Croatia level with 20 minutes left in the game. pic.twitter.com/O0xaQRULT7
England were lucky not to fall further behind immediately after that as Croatia cranked it up, but eventually the two sides ran out the clock tied to take the game to extra time.
A slew of substitutes started off the first period of extra time, with both sides trading half-chances and battling it out in the middle with the score still at 1-1. Just before the whistle though, Perisic sent in a beautiful ball for Mario Mandzukic that Pickford did well to come out and block bravely.
Those two would clash again in the 109th minute with England bereft of ideas and Croatia pushing forward. Walker failed to clear a high ball yet again and Mandzukic reacted first getting behind John Stones to whip a shot in past an advancing Pickford. Croatia 2, England 1.
The Three Lions have nothing to be ashamed of following their showing in the 2018 World Cup, having come so agonizingly close to qualifying for only their second ever final. Manager Gareth Southgate exceeded any expectations with his young squad, but will likely regret not having sealed the game like they did when they led against Sweden in the quarterfinals.
Pickford didn’t have a blinder like in the games against Sweden and Colombia, but in his defence he really had no chance on either of the Croatian goals - everything else that came at him, he saved.