Croa­tia tops Eng­land, makes fi­nal for 1st time

Yuma Sun - - SUN SPORTS -

MOSCOW — Croa­tia’s legs seemed heavy, bur­dened by the ac­cu­mu­lated toll of con­sec­u­tive penal­ty­kicks wins needed to get this far. Eng­land had gone ahead with a free kick just five min­utes in, dom­i­nated play and ap­peared headed to its first World Cup fi­nal since 1966.

Then the sec­ond half started and it was as if a dif­fer­ent Croa­t­ian team had re­placed the lethar­gic one.

Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute , Mario Mandzu­kic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th and Croa­tia shocked Eng­land with a 2-1 vic­tory Wednes­day that ad­vanced a na­tion of just over 4 mil­lion to a World Cup fi­nal against France.

“Men­tally strong team,” mid­fielder Ivan Rakitic said. “It’s just un­be­liev­able to get back in the game in this way.”

When the fi­nal whis­tle blew and they knew they were go­ing to their first World Cup fi­nal, the Croa­t­ians ran to their jump­ing and cheer­ing fans in their iconic red-and-white check­ered jer­seys. Croa­tia joined an ex­clu­sive club of 13 na­tions that ad­vanced to a World Cup fi­nal, do­ing it in a tour­na­ment where pow­ers Brazil, Ger­many, Ar­gentina and Spain made early ex­its.

“They’ve had an in­cred­i­ble route to the fi­nal.

They’ve shown re­mark­able char­ac­ter,” said Eng­land coach Gareth South­gate, who for now will be re­mem­bered more for a fash­ion­able waist­coat than end­ing a half-cen­tury of hurt.

France, which won its only ti­tle at home in 1998, will have an ex­tra day of rest af­ter beat­ing Bel­gium 1-0 on Tues­day.

Croa­tia, com­ing off 360 in­tense min­utes at soc­cer’s high­est level, faces its big­gest sport­ing mo­ment since be­com­ing an in­de­pen­dent na­tion in 1991.

“We started slowly, but we’ve shown our char­ac­ter, just as we did in the pre­vi­ous two knock­out rounds when we were one-goal down,” Perisic said.

Fans back home in Za­greb took to the streets to cel­e­brate, light­ing flares and wav­ing flags in a sea of ex­u­ber­ance.

“We are a na­tion of peo­ple who never give in, who are proud and who have char­ac­ter,” said coach Zlatko Dalic, who wore a check­ered jer­sey to his post­match news con­fer­ence. “There’s no weak­ness in a team that is in the fi­nal.”

Eng­land was not among the top 10 na­tions in ticket sales be­fore the tour­na­ment, but the team’s progress caused gal­li­vant­ing sup­port­ers to flock to Moscow.

The front of the stands be­hind one goal was filled with more than two dozen white ban­ners with a red Cross of St. Ge­orge, pledg­ing sup­port from many of the is­land’s clubs, from Brad­ford to Wolver­hamp­ton. Back home, a crowd of 30,000 was in Lon­don’s Hyde Park for a large­screen view­ing, the British Beer and Pub As­so­ci­a­tion pre­dicted sup­port­ers would buy 10 mil­lion ex­tra pints at pubs dur­ing the match, and No.1 Court at Wim­ble­don was less than one-third full for the men’s quar­ter­fi­nal be­tween John Is­ner and Mi­los Raonic.

Prom­ise seemed about to be ful­filled when Kieran Trip­pier curled in a free kick in the fifth minute for his first in­ter­na­tional goal, above leap­ing De­jan Lovren and Mandzu­kic and past the des­per­ate dive of goal­keeper Dani­jel Suba­sic. Cho­ruses of “God Save the Queen” be­gan in Eng­land’s end.

“We had a cou­ple chances af­ter that to get the sec­ond, give our­selves a bit more breath­ing room,” Eng­land cap­tain Harry Kane said.

Foot­ball will not be com­ing home to Eng­land, and there will be no ti­tle to match the 1966 tri­umph at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium. Kane & Co. will deal with the same dis­ap­point­ment that felled Shearer and Platt, Gazza and Wazza, Beck­ham and Ger­rard. And South­gate, whose penalty-kick fail­ure led to Eng­land’s pre­vi­ous semi­fi­nal loss in a ma­jor tour­na­ment, in the 1996 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship semi­fi­nals.

“Im­pos­si­ble to say any­thing to them that is go­ing to make them feel bet­ter at this point,” South­gate said af­ter Eng­land’s fourth straight loss in a ma­jor tour­na­ment semi­fi­nal.

Croa­tia tied the score af­ter Rakitic switched the ball from left flank to right, where Vr­saljko crossed. Kyle Walker at­tempted a div­ing header to clear. Perisic jumped and from be­hind raised his left boot over Walker’s head to poke the ball past goal­keeper Jor­dan Pick­ford from about 8 yards for his fourth World Cup goal, in­clud­ing two in this tour­na­ment.

Mandzu­kic scored af­ter Walker stuck out a leg to block Josip Pi­varic’s cross. The ball popped up, and Perisic out­jumped Trip­pier to head the ball to­ward goal. Mandzu­kic alertly re­acted to the un­ex­pected ball in the penalty area, split­ting de­fend­ers Stones and Harry Maguire, who both had taken four short steps up. The ball bounced twice, Mandzu­kic ran onto it and one-timed a low, left-footed shot to Pick­ford’s left.

“Three times 120 min­utes and fresher legs to­day than the English team,” Lovren mar­veled.

Mandzu­kic ran to a cor­ner and was mobbed by team­mates, who jumped on him and trapped pho­tog­ra­phers un­der them in the crush.

Not long af­ter, Dalic was think­ing about the short re­cov­ery time be­fore the fi­nal.

“It’s our fault. Why didn’t we score ear­lier?” he said. “Why didn’t we fin­ish the job in reg­u­la­tion time?” Rakitic wasn’t wor­ried. “We still have lots of en­ergy in the tank,” he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

CROA­TIA’S MARIO MANDZU­KIC cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing his side’s sec­ond goal dur­ing the semi­fi­nal match be­tween Croa­tia and Eng­land at the World Cup in the Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow, Rus­sia, Wednes­day.

Croa­tia 2 Eng­land 1

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

CROA­TIA’S MARIO MANDZU­KIC (sec­ond right) scores his side’s sec­ond goal dur­ing Wednes­day’s semi­fi­nal match be­tween Croa­tia and Eng­land in the Luzh­niki Sta­dium in Moscow, Rus­sia.

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