Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time strike completed a battling turnaround as Croatia beat England 2-1 in Moscow to reach the World Cup final for the first time in their history.
England made an electric start with Kieran Trippier’s early goal and for a large period of the game looked good value to book their passage to the final for the first time since 1966, but Croatia somehow battled through their apparent jadedness and tamed the Three Lions in extra-time, Mandzukic landing the decisive blow.
Gareth Southgate consistently downplayed the euphoria in his team in the build-up, and for a while England gave every indication they were going to take charge of their own destiny, as Trippier found the net with a delightful free-kick in the fifth minute.
But Croatia rallied and gave England’s back three more of an examination upon the start of the second period, eventually restoring parity – Ivan Perisic providing a clever finish in the 68th minute.
England managed to hang on to force an extra 30 minutes and initially looked the more threatening of the two teams once again in the additional period.
But Croatia kept their focus and Mandzukic struck left-footed in the 109th minute, ending England’s dreams for another four years and setting up a final with France on Sunday, as Zlatko Dalic’s men move another step closer to a first World Cup title.