A fast-starting England were run down by Croatia 2-1 in extra time last night. The Croatian team will advance to the World Cup Final, where they face France, while England will have to play off against Belgium for third.
England scored in just the fifth minute through a free kick to Kieran Tripper and dominated the first half. In the second, however, momentum began to shift as Croatia’s attack began to find its rhythm. Ivan Perisic took advantage of the swing to equalise in the 68th minute.
After regulation time scores were level so Croatia, who like to do things the hard way, were forced into their third consecutive extra time period. In the 109th minute of play Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, virtually playing on one leg after a knee injury, scored the decider. This was the first elimination match of the tournament where Croatia has not been forced into a penalty shoot-out.
Croatia have been the surprise packet of the tournament, with their 3-0 rout of big players Argentina in the pool stages giving their profile a huge boost. They were the underdogs against England, who were better rested and had bigger names on their roster, but overcame this through sheer resilience.
France will be their World Cup Final opponent, after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday night. The French team came into the tournament as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, and they have survived the carnage that saw other favourites fall to less favoured teams (like Brazil losing to Belgium, Germany’s loss to Mexico and Argentina falling to Croatia).
France are heavily favoured to win their second World Cup Final, and they will be much better rested than Croatia, having not been pushed into extra time in any of their matches. Since the end of the pool matches Croatia have played the equivalent of an extra game more than France, with the extra time added up.
France should win the World Cup Final quite comfortably, but Croatia cannot be written off – they have had their backs to the wall for a long time now, and they have so far managed to keep winning.