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Mario Mandzukic stars as Croatia down England to enter first FIFA World Cup final

Croatia will play France in the FIFA World Cup 2018 final after they beat England 2-1 -- thanks to a Mario Mandzukic goal in the second period of extra time.

football Updated: Jul 12, 2018 02:36 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,Mario Mandzukic,Croatia vs England
Mario Mandzukic’s extra time strike helped Croatia beat England 2-1 in Moscow on Wednesday to reach the FIFA World Cup final for the first time in their history.(REUTERS)

Croatian resolve put paid to England’s dreams in a tight semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium as Zlatko Dalic’s side came back from a goal down and rode on an extra-time winner from Mario Mandzukic to beat Gareth Southgate’s men 2-1 to book their place in the final of the FIFA World Cup for the first time in their history. (HIGHLIGHTS)

In a game that drew the highest ever English attendance in the tournament so far, Southgate’s team got off to a dream start.

Pressing high up the pitch, Dele Alli was brought down by Luka Modric just outside the penalty box in the fourth minute of the game.

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Kieran Trippier’s free kick couldn’t have been more incisive as his right-footed curler flew straight into the top corner of the Croatian net with goalkeeper Danijel Subasic a mere spectator.

From there on, England controlled the opening half. Harry Maguire had two heading opportunities from set-pieces but failed to make the most of them.

Raheem Sterling, playing as the furthest player up the pitch for England, with skipper Harry Kane just behind, started causing a few problems at the back for Croatia.

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Dejan Lovren almost had an early bath in the game but escaped two possible bookable offences after fouls on Kane and Sterling.

With Dele Alli providing cover for Jordan Henderson in midfield and the tireless Jesse Lingard dropping back when out of possession, Luka Modric wasn’t having much of a say from his deep playmaking role.

In the half hour mark, Kane found himself through on goal but his first attempt was saved by Subasic and his second went out of play after hitting the post and the goalkeeper on its way. The linesman belatedly flagged Kane offside.

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Three minutes later, Croatia had their first sniff at goal but the chance went away almost as soon as it came. Ante Rebic found himself in a promising position to shoot on the right side of the goal but Ashley Young stretched as far as he could and managed to drag the ball away from danger just in time.

There was a loud Russian presence at the ground and their presence was felt every time Domagoj Vida touched the ball. The center-back had caused a stir here when a video of him dedicating his side’s shootout win over Russia to Ukraine was leaked on social media.

Boos rang out across the stands every time he touched the ball.

As the second half began, Croatia struggled to ramp up the tempo. Football seemed to be coming home for England, as sung by their fans. And then, it suddenly lost its way.

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A cross from the right flank by Sime Vrsaljko saw Ivan Perisic get ahead of his marker Kyle Walker inside the box, and with a lift of his left leg, poked the ball into the goal. Silent for the majority of the game, the Croatian fans behind the goal suddenly found their voice.

With the score level, Croatia sprang to life. Dalic’s side now had the momentum and they came knocking on England’s door.

Perisic had two chances to put his side ahead. The first one came four minutes after the equaliser when a defensive lapse from England saw him gain possession in the box. His drilled shot beat the keeper but hit the post. Twelve minutes later, his header from a tight angle made its way back to him as England custodian Jordan Pickford failed to grab the ball.

It was reprieve for England and the game entered extra time.

Southgate tried to inject some pace with the introduction of Marcus Rashford and Danny Rose. Croatia, on the other hand, were yet to make any substitution despite it being the third straight game of them playing extra time.

Dalic was forced into making his first change when full-back Ivan Strinic picked up a knock three minutes into extra time and failed to continue. He was replaced by Josip Pivaric.

With two tiring sides on the field, penalties seemed to be on their way. But then, Perisic and Mandzukic had other ideas.

Mandzukic had collided with Pickford towards the end of the first half of extra time and seemed to be in discomfort as he ran.

Four minutes into the second half of extra time, he shook his pain off as he thumped a left-footed shot past Pickford to grab the lead for his side. The goal came from another significant Perisic contribution. The Inter Milan winger found Mandzukic with an accurate header following a clearance by Walker to set up the shooting opportunity.

England failed to come up with another chance and their dream of lifting the cup fell flat on its face. Croatian grit had triumphed, handing them a maiden World Cup final appearance – against the mighty France this Sunday at the same venue.

First Published: Jul 12, 2018 02:34 IST