Ivan Perisic’s 68th minute equaliser turned the tide against England and Mario Mandzukic’s (pictured) extra-time goal from a Perisic header helped Croatia to reach the World Cup final for the first time in its short football history.
England fans were deeply disappointed as the country’s hopes of entering the final after more than five decades were dashed by the extra-time goal.
England will meet Belgium for the third position on Saturday while Croatia have the chance to avenge their first semi-final loss to France in 1998 when they play them on Sunday in Moscow.
The ball control, speed, energy and skills the Croats displayed in the semi-final match against England point to their possible victory in the final especially if the match moves into extra time.
But Croatia took too long to settle in their match against England and they were lucky Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard missed golden chances. Croats have to find their rhythm within five minutes after the kick-off if they want to lift the World Cup.
England had a dream start in the semi-final with an early goal through a curler from Kieran Trippier. Croats looked dejected and lost after that goal as Three Lions dominated the rest of the first half.
England could have increased their lead in the 23rd minute when Kane had only Danijel Subasic to beat from close range. But the keeper denied him and Kane’s weak shot after the rebound hit the post and was cleared.
An unmarked Lingard got an opportunity to score in the 35th minute from a cross but his shot went wide. Had England scored a second goal before half time, Croatia may have found it harder to come back into the game.
In the second half, Croats looked transformed as they gained control of the ball and began pushing for a goal. The equaliser came in the 68th minute when Sime Vrsaljko sent a high cross from the right. The tall Perisic raised his feet well above the head of Kyle Walker, who was stooping to clear it, to tap it home past a diving keeper Jordan Pickford.
Perisic’s goal inspired Croats who began to play their natural game, mounting pressure on England defenders.
As the game went into extra time, John Stones almost headed it home for England but Vrsaljko, who was positioned near the left post, rose to clear it.
The miracle happened in the 109th minute. Perisic, with his back turned towards the England goal-line, sent a header to unmarked Mandzukic who turned round and banged it to the right corner.
In the dying seconds, England got a free kick which was cleared by a Croatian defender. As a Croatian forward was racing toward the midfield with the ball, the final whistle blew. England was going home after Croatia’s historic win.