After a long three weeks of hopes and dreams, we can now confirm that football’s not coming home this year. The world’s greatest sporting prize has evaded England once again as the Three Lions succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Croatia after extra-time. But they should be extremely proud of themselves for even getting to the semifinals, as many expected them to exit early again, just like in the past two World Cups. It’s unbelievable what has been achieved in the past few weeks.
England, in their first semifinal since 1990, took an early lead in the 5th minute through a wonderful free-kick from Kieran Trippier. From around 20 yards out, he looped the over the wall and it dipped just in time to beat Subasic in goal. The Three Lions had several chances to double their lead, particularly through Kane and Lingard, but they failed to capitalize. It took Croatia about 25 minutes to get in the game and threaten England at the back, but the English defensive trio were quick to every ball and cleared their lines. The teams went into the break with England leading 1-0.
Trippier’s goal is the fourth fastest in a semifinal in World Cup history.
35 seconds: Arne Nyberg (Sweden) vs Hungary, 1938
Two minutes: Vava (Brazil) vs France, 1958
Four minutes: Djordje Vujadinovic (Yugoslavia) vs Uruguay, 1930
Five minutes: Kieran Trippier (England) vs Croatia, 2018
The game completely turned around in the second half, with Croatia being the dominant ones. England struggled to deal with the pace coming in from the wide areas and suffered for it in the 68′ when Ivan Perisic got beyond Kyle Walker to tap the ball in from Sime Vrsaljko’s cross. Croatia continued to press England and almost got a second through Perisic again, but the Inter Milan man struck the post and Rebic scoffed the rebound straight into Pickford’s arms.
England brought Marcus Rashford into the game, which gave them a new dimension to their play, but they couldn’t get the ball to him enough for him to cause any major threat. With both teams solid defensively and fatigued up front, the game finished 1-1 and extra-time was required.
This was the third consecutive period of extra-time in this World Cup that Croatia have endured. They previously faced Denmark and Russia over 120 minutes (plus penalties).
As expected, extra-time was sticky. With tired legs and minds, both teams struggled to break each other down. England got close to a winner when John Stones headed on target from a corner in the 100th minute, but a superb goal-line clearance from Vrsaljko kept Croatia level. At his point, one costly mistake would have opened things up. Unfortunatley for England, two did. A tired leap from Trippier allowed a flick-on to Mario Mandzukic who dashed past a sluggish Stones and slotted it past Pickford.
ENGLISH FORTRESS DESTROYED
Mandzukic’s goal put England behind for the first time in this tournament. Gutting.
After many futile attempts, England fell to defeat for the second time at Russia 2018 as the bubbles of World Cup dreams popped right before their eyes. They’re now relegated to a third-place playoff against Belgium on Saturday. The hype about football coming home had finally died down. Football had decided that today wasn’t the day for its homecoming, and England are left to wait another four years to claim their second World Cup title.
For Croatia, well they’re national heroes. It’s the first time they’re ever going to play in a World Cup final. Ironically, their opponents are from the country that eliminated them from the 1998 tournament in the semifinals — France. Surely, the players from both sides will have that game in mind as they approach their big occasion. Revenge and reclamation will definitely be the two dominant themes.
Well, it’s been a thrilling three weeks. Thirty-two began the journey, but we’re now down to the last two. Two more games of World Cup football remain until the magic of Russia draws its curtain for the last time.
Image Credit: FIFA™