England gets Croatian treatment in Russia

Amol Gokhale
Thursday, 12 July 2018

Croatia ends England's dream of reaching World Cup final with a sensational 2-1 victory

Moscow: It's not coming home. Period.

England fans trudged their way out of Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow trying to come to terms with what had just happened. But they were singing.

"It's coming home, football's coming home..." since five minutes into their 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-final against Croatia on Wednesday night.

But at the end of 120 minutes, Three Lions were heading to St Petersburg before flying back home to play a match for the third place, rather than their first World Cup final after 52 years.

Kieran Trippier, dubbed as England's new replacement to David Beckham, proved those who gave him that nickname correct with a sublime free-kick barely five minutes into the game. England managed to choke Croatia in the first-half before Croatia turned the game on its head in the second-half.

Eventual man-of-the-match Ivan Perisic found the equaliser in the 68th minute, then two minutes later he was denied by the post before his flicked on header in the 109th minute that was fired home by Mario Mandzukic.

Croatia, country of a population over just four million, with the 2-1 win over England not just cruised into their first-ever World Cup final they also became the smallest nation to reach the final since Uruguay, the winners of the 1950 tournament.

England boss things
Gareth Southgate fielded the same XI which played against Sweden in the quarter-final in Samara with a 3-5-2 formation, while Zlatko Dalic's team was set up in a 4-2-3-1 shape but Dalic had tweaked his team again, as Marcelo Brozovic started in place of Andrej Kramaric, as captain Luka Modric was given a free role in behind the striker Mandzukic.

Southgate's men, who had scored 8 goals out of 11 from the set-pieces, added another to their name when they made the first real chance of the game count. Trippier curled the ball above the Croatia wall and beyond diving Danijel Subasic to give his side an early lead.

This was the first goal scored from a direct free-kick at the World Cup since Beckham's winner against Ecuador in 2006, and the team's 12th goal of the competition -- surpassing the 11 they netted en route to lifting the trophy 1966.

England, when attacking, used Ashley Young and Trippier in more advanced roles and when they did not have the ball, the two players were part of the back three, making it 5-3-2.

The wing-backs not just pegged back Croatia's wing-backs Ivan Strinic and Sime Vrsaljko, but also kept runs of Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic in check.

Croatian midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic too were always harried and weren't allowed much of a time and space on the ball as Croatia looked flustered in the first half. 

That obviously had an effect on their organisation as Raheem Sterling chased down every single punt of a long ball, causing Croatian backline troubles, as England captain Harry Kane could have wrapped up the tie in the first-half itself, but he fluffed his lines.

Role reversal
After the break, still chasing the game, Dalic altered his game plan slightly--he pushed his wingers -- Rebic and Perisic further up the field and Modric was asked to move the ball with little more pace, freeing up full-backs in that process, allowing them to cross more.

When the forward runs of Young and Trippier were stopped, England midfielder Jordan Henderson suddenly had too much workload, while Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard were overrun in the middle of the park, as they had to do defensive duties more than surging forward, and captain Harry Kane was deprived of service.

The equaliser came in the 68th minute after another Croatia right-back Vrsaljko was allowed time and space on the right wing to put a cross in the box.

Perisic made a late run inside the box and flicked the ball into the bottom corner past Jordan Pickford. Two minutes later, Croatia almost took the lead with Perisic making another and his left-foot shot stayed out courtesy of the far post.

Determined Croatia
As the game inched closer to the additional time, Croatian players were clearly fatigued, a slight limp as they walked on the pitch, hands on the hips, sometimes even on hunches, but they did not give up.

As the additional time arrived, Dalic made some necessary substitutions as they were playing their third consecutive match that would go on for 120 minutes.

The Croatia striker, who has played for numerous big clubs like Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus, Mario Mandzukic is known as Super Mario for his ability to work hard for the team.

Into the second half of the additional time, England switched off for a second, and Perisic’s flicked header fell into the box and Mandzukic was quickest to react, ahead of England's John Stone and fired past Pickford to complete the stunning comeback for his team.

As Croatia closed out on the game, Dalic withdrew his captain Modric, who was given a thunderous applause by the entire stadium, appreciating the display he had dished out, fighting against fatigue, to lead his team to their maiden World Cup final.

Modric and boys have already done better than the class of 1998, when Croatia reached semi-finals before losing to eventual champions France. Come Sunday, on the same lush green outfield of Luzhniki Stadium, France will stand in their way to achieve the ultimate glory.

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