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The result of Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia was always going to be historic.
For England, it was the chance to return to the final for the first time since its legendary 1966 victory; for Croatia, it was a chance at its first World Cup final ever.
Ultimately, Croatia made it through, recovering from a brutal first half to forge a path to victory by a score of 2-1 in extra time.
England began the first half in truly dominant fashion. A free kick in the fifth minute near Croatia’s box gave Kieran Trippier an early goal — an arcing shot that soared over Croatia’s wall, so good Croatian goalie Danijel Subasic could only shrug.
In the subsequent minutes, England earned multiple fouls, but failed to transform its famed set-piece speciality into subsequent goals. Croatia’s form improved as the half drew on, but after more failed attempts on goal, the teams went into half-time 1-0 to England.
In the second half, everything changed. Croatia midfielder Ivan Perišić scored a goal in the 68th minute — a high kick that Jordan Pickford was unable to block — and the momentum shifted completely. Suddenly, Croatia was dominant, crowding England’s box again and again, with the English squad scrambling to prevent Croatia taking the lead. Pickford, suddenly, was forced to take a far more active role in the game.
In the 90th minute, England was granted a free kick just yards from Croatia’s penalty box, but Trippier’s shot to Kane’s head failed to make it to the back of the net. Croatia pushed back in the dying moments of the second half, but Perišić’s attempt failed to land Croatia the last-minute win it so desperately wanted.
In the ninth minute of extra time, a corner gave England defender Stones a glorious header on goal — but Croatia dedender Šime Vrsaljko was able to head it away. In the injury time before the half, Mario Mandžukić should’ve had one, but Pickford managed to kick it clear and the teams headed into the second half of extra time neck-and-neck.
After patient passing build-up play in the 108th minute, Mandžukić popped up on the six-yard line to dim England’s dreams. The Croatia striker evaded his marker, found space in the box, and needed just one touch to tease the ball past Pickford and break a nation’s hearts.
The winning team will now go through to the final on Sunday, to play France — a team that will have been watching Wednesday’s long and gruelling match eagerly after its 1-0 victory over Belgium on Tuesday.