2018 World Cup Final Recap — France 4, Croatia 2 (July 15)

France lifted the Jules Rimet trophy for the second time in its history as teenager Kylian Mbappe capped his global coming out party with his fourth goal of the World Cup as Les Bleus recorded a 4-2 victory over final debutant Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.

In a match that typified a World Cup that seemingly had everything to offer, the final had a little bit of everything — an own goal, a penalty after consultation by VAR, spectators rushing the field, a howler by a goalkeeper and a pair of world-class strikes — as the two European sides did not hold back in a rollicking back-and-forth affair that Les Bleus took control of with two goals six minutes apart midway through the second half.

Antoine Griezmann converted a penalty in the first half, Paul Pogba’s goal in the 59th minute stood as the match-winner and France got an own goal from Mario Mandzukic. Les Bleus added a second star to put over Le Coq Gaulois alongside their 1998 victory as hosts.

Unsurprisingly, Mbappe won the Young Player Award while Croatia midfielder Luka Modric was named the Golden Ball winner as the tournament’s best player, the sixth straight World Cup in which the Golden Ball winner came from the runner-up.

The defeat capped a stunning run under coach Zlatko Dalic, who took over the Vatreni for their final European qualifier, a 2-0 victory at Ukraine in October 2017 that got them into a two-legged playoff against Greece from which they emerged victorious to simply qualify for Russia.

England’s Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot with six goals, while Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois claimed the Golden Glove as the tournament’s top keeper.

With France president Emmanuel Macron cheering on and later offering heartfelt hugs to his and Croatia’s players along with Croatia prime minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as they received their medals, Les Bleus capped Bastille Day weekend celebrations in grand style and moved on from the disappointment of losing the 2016 European Championship on their home soil.

The second-youngest side behind Nigeria at this World Cup, France will enter the 2020 Euros — played out across the continent before descending upon Wembley Stadium in England for the semifinals and final — as the prohibitive favorite in addition to being a team expected to be on the short list of potential World Cup champions in Qatar in four years’ time.

Manager Didier Deschamps became just the third person to win the World Cup as a player and manager as the talisman of the 1998 squad joined German great Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo on that exclusive list. France also joined a select group with its second World Cup title, joining Brazil (5), Italy (4), Germany (4), Argentina (2) and Uruguay (2) as multiple winners.

Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic scored the goals for Croatia, but Perisic’s handball led to Griezmann’s penalty in the 38th minute that gave France the lead for good at 2-1. The Vatreni showed no signs of the fatigue expected of a team that had played extra time in all three of their previous matches and had to go to penalties twice but also lacked a finishing edge in the final third as they gave Les Bleus all they could handle throughout the final.

It was Croatia’s best finish at the World Cup, surpassing its run to the 1998 semifinals — also ended by France — in its first appearance on the global stage following the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Both teams retained their starting XIs from their respective semifinals victories as well as their 4-2-3-1 formations. France was decked out in its traditional blue uniforms while Croatia busted out its large red-and-white checkerboard tops.

Both teams started cautiously, Croatia on the ball first before France getting its first spell of possession. Luka Modric was aggressive early, getting whistled for a pair of fouls. Ivan Rakitic nearly created a scoring chance when he stepped in front of Benjamin Pavard and stormed down the left before being turned away by Samuel Umtiti for a throw-in.

The first Croatian cross came in from the right in the fifth minute by Sime Vrsaljko but was cleared by Raphael Varane. The Vatreni won the first corner kick of the contest in the eighth minute when Pogba deflected Ivan Strinic’s dribble over the end line.

Modric played it short to Strinic on the left, but it was Mbappe’s turn to show he can defend as well as attack, conceding a second corner with a well-timed slide. Modric whipped this attempt into the mixer, but Varane strongly headed clear.

Croatia continued to be the more aggressive team with Strinic pushing forward to pin Mbappe back on the right. Rakitic picked out Perisic over the top on the left in the 11th minute, but Perisic could not control it with an extended boot and it rolled out for a France goal kick.

Pavard got caught out going up for a 50/50 ball as Strinic steamed down the left, winning another corner that failed to amount to anything. Mbappe showed just how dangerous his pace could be when he twisted Croatia’s left back into a pretzel before a cross from the end line was cleared.

Mandzukic’s own goal for France that opened the scoring came completely against the run of play. Griezmann drew a free kick 30 yards out on the right with a foul on Marcelo Brozovic in the 18th minute, and his curling left-footed effort glanced off the Croatian striker’s head and inside the left post.

It was the first goal in the World Cup final scored in regulation since Marco Materazzi scored in the 19th minute for Italy in 2006. It was also the first own goal in a World Cup final and record 12th own goal overall in Russia.

But falling behind in the knockout round has been nothing new for the Vatreni, who trailed against Denmark, Russia and England before fighting back. Modric drew a foul on the right sideline parallel to the 18-yard line, but Domagoj Vida’s header from Modric’s free kick sailed well over the bar in the 21st minute.

Mbappe hared off after a through ball, but Strinic made a vital clearance just above the penalty area. A quick Croatia counter led to another free kick, but Hugo Lloris emphatically punched out Modric’s curling cross into the mixer.

Nestor Pitana brandished his yellow card for the first time in the 28th minute when N’Golo Kante clipped Ivan Perisic’s heels as he carried through the middle. The ensuing free kick eventually led to Croatia’s equalizer in the 29th minute when three headers eventually re-directed the ball to the middle of the penalty area, where Vida knocked it down for Perisic. He touched it to his left before lashing a left-footed shot across Lloris and inside the right post.

It was Perisic’s third goal of the tournament and the third consecutive Croatia goal he was involved in after scoring the equalizer against England and assisting on Mandzukic’s match-winner in the semifinal. It was also the first goal France conceded since Sergio Aguero’s header in second-half stoppage time for Argentina in the round of 16.

A misjudged header by Vida on Lloris’ goal kick trying to pick out Mbappe gifted France a corner in the 34th minute. Griezmann’s in-swinger from the right hit Perisic on the left hand, prompting Pitana to consult VAR and correctly award Les Bleus a penalty.

It pitted Griezmann, who had converted twice from the spot leading up to the final against Danjiel Subasic, who made four saves in shootout victories over Denmark and Russia. The Atletico Madrid showed no nerves in slotting it to his left as Subasic fell in the other direction as France regained the lead at 2-1 with his fourth goal of the tournament.

Croatia nearly answered straightaway as Perisic sent a cross into the middle that Ante Rebic mishit and Mandzukic could not get to quick enough as it spun softly to Lloris. Lucas Hernandez was given a yellow card for cutting down Rebic as the two chased a ball near the right sideline in the midfield.

Modric sent another tantalizing free kick into the mixer in the 43rd minute that Pavard deflected after Perisic got his head to it as France conceded a corner. Les Bleus were forced to concede a second corner that nearly was calamitous before Olivier Giroud fired it clear.

Umtiti went down in the 45th minute after Dejan Lovren fell on his leg in the scramble of the ensuing corner, leaving France with 10 men to deal with another corner that Vida narrowly missed re-directing inside the right post. After three minutes of stoppage time, Pitana finally ended proceedings to a manic first half complete with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder.

Subasic made the first save by either goalkeeper in the 47th minute, calmly catching Griezmann’s shot from 25 yards after Giroud played it back to him in yards of open space. Lloris quickly got his first, tipping Rebic’s sharp-angled blast over the bar with his left hand after he was superbly played in from the left by Rakitic.

Lloris had to make a vital clearance outside the penalty area in the 49th minute after Varane got a touch to a long ball over the top by Brozovic trying to pick out Perisic. Croatia continued to turn the screws on France’s defense, earning its sixth corner when Modric made an aggressive play on the right.

Vrsaljko tried a speculative volley on a headed clearance off the corner that went well wide. The Vatreni were in full flow offensively, playing more directly and looking no worse for the wear despite all the extra yards accumulated from their previous matches as France struggled to find any cohesion and lengthy spell of possession.

Pogba sent Mbappe through on the right and he almost got around Vida before having a sharp-angled shot stopped. The game was then stopped momentarily in the 52nd minute when four spectators raced onto the field and were hauled off by security. Lloris then made a brave punch on Rakitic’s ball over the top, conceding a corner while getting plowed by Mandzukic.

Deschamps, seeing how Kante could not play his normal game sitting on a yellow, lifted the Chelsea midfielder on 55 minutes for Steven N’Zonzi. Perisic, continuing to give Pavard all sorts of issues on the left, overcooked a cross from Mandzukic in the 58th minute.

Pogba started the play that led to his goal in the 59th minute, releasing Mbappe forward on the right from his own half. The teen starlet worked free of Strinic deep in the penalty area and passed it to Griezmann, who laid it off to Pogba at the top of the penalty area. His right-footed shot was blocked by a defender, but his rasping left-footed one caught a screened Subasic flat-footed and made it 3-1.

The match now fully open, France now went about picking apart Croatia on the counter. Mbappe officially kicked off the celebration in the 65th minute, taking a lateral pass from Hernandez and touching it to his right before cutting it inside Vida and the left post from 20 yards for his fourth goal of the World Cup and a three-goal advantage.

He became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958, and his four goals in Russia were the most by a teen since the Brazilian legend bagged six in that tournament in Sweden.

Croatia pulled one back in the 69th minute through a moment of sheer madness by Lloris, who tried to play a back pass around Mandzukic, but the Croatian striker tapped the keeper’s crossover into the net for his third goal of the tournament.

Zlatko Dalic made his first swap in the 71st minute, introducing Andrej Kramaric for Rebic, and Deschamps countered two minutes later with Blaise Matuidi making way for Corentin Tolisso.

Rakitic narrowly went wide of the right post from the top of the penalty area in the 78th minute. France had succeeded in slowing the pace down to a degree, yet Croatia persisted in its efforts to find a way back into the match. Deschamps made his final switch in the 81st minute, taking off Giroud for the fresh legs of Nabil Fekir whie Dalic called on Marko Pjaca for Strinic.

Pjaca, though, had a heavy first touch on the right after being picked out by Kramaric. Rakitic had a free kick from the left from 35 yards in the 84th minute, but drilled it right at Lloris.

France’s bench poured onto the field after Pitana blew the final whistle to begin celebrating while many Croatia players collapsed onto the pitch where they were in exhaustion after bending but not breaking a disciplined and pragmatic Les Bleus side that found the extra gear in counterattack.

After the match, the punk rock protest group Pussy Riot claimed responsibility for the pitch invasion, which consisted of three women and one man. The group gained global notoriety after singing a song denouncing Russia president Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Two members of the band, including the wife of the male arrested — identified as Pyotr Vezilov — served a two-year prison sentence as part of that incident.

 

 

2018 World Cup Preview Match 64 — France vs. Croatia

A man unlikely to score a goal and not playing goalkeeper could heavily sway the outcome of the World Cup final between France and Croatia on Sunday at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Take a moment to examine the credentials of N’Golo Kante, whose five-year meteoric rise from Ligue 2 and Caen could reach its apex if Les Bleus add a second title to the one they won as hosts in 1998. After helping Caen win promotion to Ligue 1 in 2014 and playing a second season there, he appeared on the radar of Leicester City and well, you know the rest.

The rags-to-riches story of the Foxes going from relegation-threatened to regality with their 2016 Premier League title. Sensing what he could do in front of a three-man backline that brought him so much acclaim at Juventus, Antonio Conte poached Kante for Chelsea, where he became the first player in Premier League history to win back-to-back titles for two different teams.

His trajectory at the international scene has been slightly uneven, with the chance of him joining Mali in 2015. Kante made his competitive debut for France at the 2016 European Championship, helping Les Bleus get to the final, where he sat unused for 120 minutes in Paris as they lost to Portugal after extra time.

Manager Didier Deschamps — himself the “water-carrier” on the 1998 team playing the same role as Kante — has not made that mistake a second time in Russia, as a win would make him the third person to win the World Cup as a player and manager alongside Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and Mario Zagallo of Brazil.

Kante has logged all 540 minutes over France’s six matches en route to its third World Cup final in 20 years and covered 62.7 kilometers of ground, 27.4 of which have come with his team not in possession.

He has won 58 balls and lost only 31, forming a lethal tandem with Blaise Matuidi in front of France’s back four as Les Bleus have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in wins over Uruguay and Belgium.

“NG is always very reserved, very calm and very timid,” France midfielder Paul Pogba said at Thursday’s press conference per Reuters. “Except when he is playing cards.

“We understand each other very well, we talk, we give each other advice. It is a very special relationship. He is just a great guy.”

Kante’s dominance allows Pogba the freedom to roam forward in attack and join stars Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud. But it was clearly apparent in France’s 1-0 win over Belgium that the Manchester United midfielder has bought into his defensive responsibilities, often backtracking into his penalty area and man-marking while helping his defenders win aerial clearances.

While Griezmann may be the string-puller on offense with three goals and two assists, Pogba is showing the two-way game Jose Mourinho was trying to coax out of him all season with United.

Though Kante is France’s immovable object of the midfield, Croatia counters with an irresistible force of its own in Luka Modric in its first World Cup final appearance. The Vatreni burst onto the international football scene in France 20 years ago, reaching the semifinals before falling to Les Bleus and claiming third place in their maiden showing.

This is the first World Cup they advanced from group play since 1998, with Modric and his teammates taking the longest road to get to Moscow. Croatia has gone to extra time in all three matches, beating Denmark and Russia via penalties before defeating England 2-1 after 120 minutes Wednesday without the stomach-churning agony of spot kicks.

At just under 63 kilometers, Modric is the only player to have covered more ground than Kante, helped by the extra 64 minutes he has been able to play because of Croatia’s three extended matches. But there is much quality as there is quantity to the midfielder’s game as he and Ivan Perisic gradually took over the semifinal match against England.

While Modric bossed the midfield, Perisic was a torment on the left side and had a massive match as he scored Croatia’s equalizer and assisted on Mario Mandzukic’s winner in the 109th minute. Modric, Perisic and Mandzukic all have two goals and an assist, and while Ivan Rakitic has scored just once in the six matches to get to the finals, the Vatreni would not be here without him since he converted both decisive penalties.

“Again there was drama, it couldn’t have been otherwise,” Perisic told FIFA’s official website after Wednesday’s win. “Three times now we’ve been a goal down and have come back, and that really says a lot about our team spirit. And that is a real feature of this generation of players. We have one more game left, and we have never been more motivated.”

The combination of the extra 90 minutes of play plus the one day less to recover could loom large in Croatia’s preparation for this match, perhaps even forcing coach Zlatko Dalic to make changes on the periphery surrounding his axis of Modric, Perisic, Rakitic and Mandzukic.

Left back Ivan Strinic has not been 100 percent the last two matches, with Josep Pivaric serving as a capable understudy versus England after a shaky performance against Russia. It is possible Andrej Kramaric gets the start over Marcelo Brozovic similar to Dalic’s XI versus Russia in which Modric lays deep in a diamond midfield.

Dalic does have options, though some changes may be out of strategic necessity due to the cumulative fatigue. Still, with so much pride from so small a nation — at just over four million people, Croatia would be the second-smallest country to win the World Cup behind only 1930 and 1934 winner Uruguay — it would also not be surprising to see him present an unchanged XI from the semifinal victory.

“We are a nation of people who never give in, who are proud and have character. What our players did today, the strength and stamina they’ve shown, the energy level, I wanted to make substitutions but nobody wanted to come off,” Dalic said. “We’re preparing for another daunting task but we’re ready for it. We had three times extra time, but that’s up to us. We didn’t score earlier, we can ask why didn’t we finish the job in 90 minutes.

“There will be no excuses, we should not take that path. We have to play as if this was the first game of this tournament. We are not going to fish for excuses.”

HOW THEY GOT HERE

France
June 16 — France 2, Australia 1 (Griezmann 58′ (PK), Jedinak 62′ (PK), Behich 81′ (og))
June 21 — France 1, Peru 0 (Mbappe 34′)
June 26 — France 0, Denmark 0
June 30 — France 4, Argentina 3 (Griezmann 13′ (PK), Di Maria 41′, Mercado 48′, Pavard 57′, Mbappe 64′, Mbappe 68′, Aguero 90+3′)
July 6 — France 2, Uruguay 0 (Varane 40′, Griezmann 61′)
July 10 — France 1, Belgium 0 (Umtiti 51′)

Croatia
June 16 — Croatia 2, Nigeria 0 (Etebo 32′ (og), Modric 71′ (PK))
June 21 — Croatia 3, Argentina 0 (Rebic 53′, Modric 80′, Rakitic 90+1′)
June 26 — Croatia 2, Iceland 1 (Badelj 50′, G. Sigurdsson 76′ (PK), Perisic 90′)
July 1 — Croatia 1, Denmark 1 (Jorgensen 1′, Mandzukic 4′) (Croatia wins 3-2 on PKs)
July 7 — Croatia 2, Russia 2 (Cheryshev 31′, Kramaric 39′, Vida 101′, Fernandes 115′) (Croatia wins 4-3 on PKs)
July 11 — Croatia 2, England 1 a.e.t. (Trippier 5′, Perisic 68′, Mandzukic 109′)

FORMATIONS

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it for France, which has been in a 4-2-3-1 set-up since late in its opening match against Australia and is likely to use this starting XI for the second straight match after yellow cards forced Matuidi to miss the quarters. Two of Les Bleus last three goals have come from their central defenders as Griezmann provided the passes for both Umiti’s and Rapahel Varane’s goals around his goal in the quarterfinal versus Uruguay.

While Croatia sometimes lets Modric operate as a lone midfielder in front of his back four, there is plenty of flexibility as the Real Madrid man often forms triangles with Rakitic and Perisic on the left. Sometimes Rakitic will drop back to help similar to how France delopy Matuidi and Kante, which allows Rakitic the space to pour forward and find creases in opposing defenses.

INJURIES AND INELIGIBLES

Neither team has a player ineligible for this match, though Croatia has been operating one man short since sending Nikola Kalinic home after its opening match for not entering as a substitute when Dalic asked. While Strinic has come out in each of the last two matches, it would seem difficult to believe he would make way for Pivaric at left back.

Deschamps has a full 23-man roster to utilize, with Corentin Tolisso, Ousmane Dembele, Steven N’Zonzi and Nabil Fekir has top options off the bench depending on strategy for substitutions.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

France — Olivier Giroud (F)

While Giroud has failed to place any of his 10 shots on target in Russia, he has done all Deschamps has asked of him by being the target forward France needs to create space offensively. He played a higher line against Belgium, which allowed Griezmann and Mbappe to try and find space with their quickness. While many have derisively compared his contributions to Stephane Guivarc’h from the 1998 squad, Giroud likely will happily take them if it means he gets to lift the Jules Rimet trophy.

Croatia — Danjiel Subasic (GK)

His quality at stopping penalty kicks aside, Subasic did not have a match to remember against England in the semifinals. He failed to create a quality wall that led to Kieran Trippier’s goal off a free kick, failing to even locate the ball until it was right on top of him and in the upper right corner of the net. Subasic has made 12 saves in his five matches at this World Cup, and given his counterpart Hugo Lloris’ fine run of form heading into this final, the Monaco No. 1 is going to have to raise his game if Croatia is to spring a large World Cup upset.

WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD

1998 (France) SF — France 2, Croatia 1 (Suker 46′, Thuram 47′, 70′)

France did not trail at any point as host in the 1998 World Cup until Davor Suker put Croatia ahead 26 seconds after the restart, latching onto a smart chip over France’s defense by Aljosa Asanovic for his fifth goal of the tournament. Les Bleus would strike back immediately as defender Lillian Thuram dispossessed Zvonimir Boban and worked a 1-2 with Youri Djorkaeff before going across across Drazen Ladic for the equalizer.

In the 70th minute, Thuram completed his brace with an inch-perfect curling strike from 20 yards on the right, bending it inside the far post on the bounce. France held out the final 16 minutes with 10 men after defender Laurent Blanc was sent off. While Blanc did make contact with Slaven Bilic with an open hand and shove to Bilic’s chest, the Croat play-acted as if the contact was on his face, and referee Jose Manuel Garcia did not have VAR reveal the truth.

The last meeting between the teams in a tournament setting was a 2-2 draw in group play at the 2004 European Championship. David Trezeguet gave Les Bleus a contentious draw with his equalizer on 64 minutes after it appeared he controlled the ball with his hand before scoring.

The Vatreni have never beaten France in five all-time matches, losing three and drawing two.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, France is a heavy favorite at better-than-even odds (10/11), and Croatia is a firm underdog at 18/5. The odds of the match ending in a draw and going to penalty kicks are 11/5. Oddsmakers are expecting a two-goal total as that returns 23/10 odds, closely followed by a 1-0 verdict at 5/2. A three-goal haul has 15/4 odds, and a scoreless contest checks in at 11/2.

For first goal-scorers, Griezmann and Mbappe are joint-favorites at 9/2 followed by Giroud at 11/2. Mandzukic is Croatia’s top option at 15/2 and seventh overall in the pecking order.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Nestor Pitana opened the World Cup as the referee for the Russia-Saudi Arabia match, and the Argentine will close the tournament as the man in the middle for the final. It will be his second match involving the championship teams, having overseen Croatia’s round of 16 victory over Denmark and France’s quarterfinal win over Uruguay. Pitana also was in charge of the group stage match between Mexico and Sweden.

“We won’t change what we’ve been doing up until now,” Pitana told FIFA’s official website.  “We’ll be very focused as always, that’s what has got us here. This team have worked so hard to get where we are, we’ve managed one of the greatest achievements in the world of refereeing. And now we want to finish the job, in the best way possible.”

PREDICTION

While some people have complained that Deschamps has gone “anti-football” in stifling both Uruguay and Belgium in the last two matches, the other truth is that he has gotten his offensively gifted players to play two-way games as a checks and balances that augment the playmaking skills of Griezmann and Pogba.

Griezmann is a No. 10 without the No. 10, a shrewd player who knows where and when to pop up to receive the ball in advantageous situations. Much had been made of Pogba after an inconsistent season with United, and while he does not have a goal or an assist, he has done what Deschamps has asked of him in being a destroyer over a facilitator because Les Bleus have plenty of facilitators.

Giroud could be the X-factor in all of this. He could have done better against Belgium, most notably failing to get his feet together when Mbappe delivered a perfect cross. He knows this and the world knows this. But Deschamps is going to ride him because of how much better France’s offense flows when he’s on the pitch and also because he’s still capable of delivering on set pieces, an area Croatia has struggled in giving up goals the last two matches.

For all the talk Croatia’s players have made in insisting they will be ready for Sunday, one is allowed to wonder just how much they have left to give. Mandzukic was almost let for dead before his professional goal in which he found the half-second of time to ghost into the space England defender John Stones should have been on the winning goal.

Someone behind the big three of Modric, Perisic and Rakitic must deliver, and the most likely candidate is Ante Rebic. If he can pin Lucas Hernandez back and allow Sime Vrsaljko to get forward from right back, the Vatreni can create problems offensively.

While France has played a more offensively loaded team already in Argentina, Croatia is a far better balanced squad that can diversify its attacks narrow or wide, though it did far more damage against England when it was able to utilize the flanks.

This should be an entertaining match for purists, especially as Kante and Modric battle all over the pitch since neither will give the other any quarter or moment of respite. But between France’s quality at seemingly every position as well as the cumulative fatigue Croatia has accrued in its valiant quest to get to the final, it is difficult to see an outcome other than Les Bleus getting a second star as World Cup champions.

PREDICTION: FRANCE 2, CROATIA 0

UP NEXT

France will kickoff the new Nations League hosting Germany on Sept. 6, while Croatia’s first match in UEFA’s new set-up will be at Spain on Sept. 11.

2018 World Cup Recap Match 62 — Croatia 2, England 1 a.e.t. (July 11)

Mario Mandzukic’s goal in the 109th minute propelled Croatia to its first World Cup final in its young history, breaking the hearts of England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday in Moscow.

The Vatreni, whose only previous semifinal appearance came in their maiden World Cup appearance in 1998, showed plenty of courage in advancing to Sunday’s final against France while playing their third straight match that went into extra time.

Unlike the victories over Denmark and Russia, Croatia this time avoided going to penalties as its veteran savvy found the half-second of advantage against the young Three Lions that made the difference.

The game-winning play started when Kyle Walker popped his clearance only as far as the left elbow of the penalty area. Ivan Perisic, who scored the equalizer in the 68th minute, won a 50/50 ball against Kieran Trippier and headed it backward towards goal.

Mandzukic ghosted behind John Stones and lashed a left-footed shot from the elbow of the six-yard box across Jordan Pickford and inside the right post. England could not create a threatening chance in the final 11 minutes, its chances literally hamstrung when Trippier came up lame in the 115th minute and played the final five minutes and stoppage time with 10 men having used all four of their substitutions.

The final attempt came with a free kick 35 yards from Croatia’s goal, but Marcus Rashford’s chip did not go deep enough to draw Croatia keeper Danjiel Subasic off his line as Perisic was able to bundle it away from danger before referee Cuneyt Cakir blew his whistle.

The Vatreni will stay in Moscow to face Les Bleus, their first World Cup encounter since France eliminated them in the 1998 semifinals in Saint-Denis with a 2-1 victory. Croatia will be seeking its first victory over France as the countries are meeting for the sixth time.

Though denied their first World Cup final since winning it on home soil in 1966, the Three Lions will return to England with their heads held high after Saturday’s third-place match versus Belgium in St. Petersburg.

Gareth Southgate’s team — the second-youngest behind Nigeria in Russia — came of age behind talisman Harry Kane, who is likely to bring home the Golden Boot as he leads with six goals, and keeper Jordan Pickford, who cemented himself as England’s No. 1 going forward with commanding performances between the sticks in the three knockout matches.

England has scored a record nine goals off set pieces at this World Cup, accounting for 75 percent of its goals. Trippier added to that ledger with his well-taken goal five minutes after the opening kickoff.

With only five players on the roster born before England’s previous semifinal appearance in 1990, Southgate’s young players continued to prefer writing their own narrative as opposed to looking back to the half-century of almosts and never-weres. The Three Lions got off to a dream start in the fifth minute through Trippier.

Luka Modric chopped down Dele Alli just above the penalty area, 25 yards out and virtually straight down the middle. Trippier struck a quality curling effort with his right foot, over Dejan Lovren in Croatia’s wall and in the upper right corner as Subasic had no chance in stopping it.

The Spurs wide back became the third England player to score in a World Cup semifinal, joining Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker. The Three Lions continued on the front foot, with Raheem Sterling again causing an opposing backline issues with his pace while failing to create any scoring chances for himself.

England earned another pair of corner kicks inside the quarter-hour. Maguire was able to get his meaty forehead to both, but they failed to result in a goal as each went wide of the right post. His second effort was the better of the two, bouncing wide from 15 yards on a diagonal effort.

Croatia’s first shot came in the 19th minute when Perisic whistled a low effort wide of the left post from 20 yards. The Vatreni gifted Sterling the ball on the right side with a ghastly turnover, but he picked out Kane in an offsides position.

England should have doubled its lead on the half-hour through Kane. Jesse Lingard did well to control a pass and played Kane through on the left. The striker tried a shot from six yards that Subasic did well to get down quickly and stop, but the ball popped back to Kane near the left post.

He tried to slam the ball inside the post, but it thumped the woodwork and Subasic before spinning over the end line for a Croatia goal kick. The Vatreni finally tested Pickford in the 32nd minute as Modric picked out Ante Rebic on the right side after dribbling with the ball in and out of the penalty area, but Rebic’s shot arrowed right at the England No. 1.

Jesse Lingard became the second Three Lions player to spurn a chance to make it 2-0 in the 36th minute, snatching at his shot from 20 yards after a neat lateral pass from Alli after he drew three defenders to him.

Cakir was content to let the teams play, though the chippiness was steadily increasing throughout the first half. Rebic should have been booked for a cynical challenge from behind on Ashley Young, while Lovren had a pair of tactical midfield fouls that would have warranted a yellow card on most occasions.

Croatia had one last chance before halftime on a free kick and while there was a penalty shout for Maguire holding Lovren, VAR deemed it insufficient as the teams went to halftime.

After the restart, Rebic continued to try and influence the match but overcooked a cross for Perisic in the 53rd minute. England fashioned a corner three minutes later, but Lovren did well to get his foot to Trippier’s in-swinger before Kane could get his head to it.

On the hour, Croatia finally started switching gears as the triangle of Modric, Perisic and Ivan Rakitic grew in stature. Rakitic pounced on a poor clearance from Stones and had time to load up a right-footed shot from the top of the box in the 65th minute, but Walker threw himself in front of it and absorbed it in the midsection.

Three minutes later, though, the Vatreni would have their equalizer. Rakitic sent a reverse-pitch pass to Sime Vrsaljko to the right, and Croatia’s right back quickly fired in a cross while England’s back line was static. Perisic ghosted in front of Walker, getting his right foot to the ball with a high flick above Walker’s head and sending it past Pickford on 68 minutes.

Croatia had its tails up at this point and nearly grabbed the lead four minutes later when Perisic took advantage of another poor clearance by Stones and was able to do a stepover to create some space on the left side of the penalty area before ripping a shot across Pickford that dented the right post.

It came right to Rebic, who was unable to pick out a corner and hit the rebound almost directly at Pickford as England averted a crisis. Southgate made his first switch right before the final quarter-hour as Sterling made way for Rashford.

England finally looked threatening as Lingard fizzed a cross and Henderson went over the bar 12 minutes from time. But the nerves came back as Walker sent a slow back pass towards Pickford that Perisic nearly latched onto before Trippier touched it further back to his keeper as he belted it upfield.

Manduzkic had a shot stopped by Pickford, but then the England keeper had a weak punch that fell to Perisic in the penalty area, but his chip over Pickford also sailed over the bar. England was simply hanging on and looking to get to extra time as Croatia hemmed the Three Lions in their final third, but Lovren gave them a respite when he tried a heroic 30-yard shot that sailed into the crowd.

England had the last chance of regulation, with Kane nodding an unmarked header wide of the left post on a free kick from Trippier. Southgate burned his second sub before the start of the first extra period, introducing Danny Rose for Young.

Alli did himself a disservice in the 93rd minute by failing to shoot as opposed to his lay off that was cleared by Croatia’s defense. Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic was forced into his first change as Ivan Strinic came up hobbling, and Josep Pivaric entered at left back.

Unlike its match against Colombia, England was demonstrably better in the opening 15-minute extra period and came agonizingly close to grabbing the lead in the 98th minute.

Trippier sent a perfect corner from the right, and Stones got all of a header he angled for the left post. But Vrsaljko was perfectly stationed, unlike most teams who opted not to have players stationed at the posts, and he jumped to head a sure goal off the line.

Croatia made one last push in the waning moments of the first extra 15 minutes, with Dier making a vital block of a drive by Andrej Kramaric, and then Pickford came up with a magnificent reflex save on a shot by Mandzukic after Perisic whipped in a cross from the left.

The teams switched sides for the second extra period, and one could sense England’s fatigue was more mental than physical as Rakitic played a wily short corner on the left for Marcelo Brozovic, but he ripped his 10-yard shot into the side netting as opposed to going across his body.

After Mandzukic’s goal, Southgate’s final roll of the dice came with Jamie Vardy entering for Walker. Subasic comfortably claimed a cross from Rashford, and Croatia won a corner as it began its bid to see off the match.

Pivaric hit a 25-yard curler right at Pickford, but Trippier came up limping and hobbled over the end line, instantly knowing his match had been run and waited for help from England’s physio staff. Now down to 10 men, England continued to pour forward, and Alli won a free kick on the left.

What should have been a corner kick was ruled a goal kick after Rashford’s play into the area was nodded out by Lovren and not Maguire. The indefeatigable Modric was lifted in the 118th minute for Milan Baldelj as the Vatreni were set to bunker and chase.

Kramaric could have done more in the 120th minute, but he opted to shoot instead of send Perisic through and went into the side netting. Pivaric inexplicably gave England one last lifeline in stoppage time, hitting a cross right at Pickford rather than killing time in the corner.

Badelj was whistled for a handball 35 yards out, but Rashford’s chip went begging, and a weary yet unbroken Croatia side was through to its first World Cup final.

 

2018 World Cup Semifinal Preview — Croatia vs. England (Match 62)

Freed from the chains of their past — some distant and others more recent — Croatia and England vie in Moscow on Wednesday to claim a spot in the World Cup final.

For the Vatreni, the tall order of living up to the 1998 squad led by Davor Suker who reached the semifinals in the country’s first World Cup appearance has finally been achieved. It took becoming the first team to win consecutive shootouts since the 1990 Argentina side to get there, but Croatia booked its spot in the final four with a dramatic victory over Russia on penalties after playing to a 2-2 draw.

Andrej Kramaric scored a first-half goal to level the match and Domagoj Vida’s header off Luka Modric’s corner in the 101st minute gave Croatia a 2-1 lead it relinquished with five minutes left in the second 15-minute extra period.

It would be penalties once more, and after tying a World Cup record with three saves in the victory over Denmark, Vatreni keeper Danijel Subasic made a fourth versus the Sbornaya. Mario Fernandes would add a second miss for Russia, and for the second straight match, Ivan Rakitic would convert the decisive kick into the lower left corner in the fifth round.

The Barcelona midfielder became the first person to take two winning spot kicks in World Cup history.

“I am proud to be part of this team that will remain enrolled as one of the biggest in Croatian sports,” Kramaric told FIFA’s official website. “But we do not want to stop now, we have to make it a step further.

“The match against Russia is yet another victory of our character. We have nerves of steel. We showed how calm and self-confident we are. Perhaps the match was not the most beautiful, but it will be remembered.”

It was an uneven match for Croatia, which at times bossed Russia around the pitch through Modric’s string-pulling while paying heavy prices for mistakes on both goals. Defender Josep Pivaric conceded a free kick just outside the penalty area with a deliberate hand ball that led to Russia’s late equalizer.

Despite taking 18 shots, the Vatreni put only three on target, though a fourth by Ivan Perisic hit the inside of the left post and spun away in the second half. Croatia, though, has made the most of its chances when it gets good looks — its 10 goals have come from 19 shots on target.

England left behind its tortured past in penalties by becoming just the third team in 30 World Cup shootouts to overturn a deficit when it beat Colombia in spot kicks in the round of 16. The Three Lions had a more straightforward victory in reaching the semifinals for the first time since 1990, defeating Sweden 2-0.

Harry Maguire extended England’s dominance in set pieces in Russia with a well-taken header off a corner in the first half, and Dele Alli’s second-half header from close range accounted for the offense. Keeper Jordan Pickford picked an opportune time for his first clean sheet at this World Cup, making two timely saves in the second half and a third top-notch block to continue the surprise run of this young England side.

“The adrenaline was really, really high,” Maguire said. “It was an unbelievable moment, a really proud moment for myself. My first England goal – and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We’d had a nervy start maybe, early in the game, and the goal really settled us down and then we deserved the win.”

It was also England’s eighth goal off set pieces at this tournament, easily the most of any team and the most in World Cup history since Portugal bagged that many in 1966. Three Lions supporters may consider that a good omen, along with the 11 goals they have scored overall since that is how many goals they scored en route to their only World Cup title as hosts 52 years prior.

Striker Harry Kane still comfortably leads the Golden Boot race with six goals, two clear of Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, Russia’s Denis Cheryshev and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, though only Lukaku can catch him of the three.

While chasing away the demons of past World Cups has been achieved, there is still one dubious moment in England’s storied history it would like to avenge against Croatia.

The Vatreni famously dumped the Three Lions out of qualifying for the 2008 European Championships with a 3-2 victory at Wembley Stadium in November 2007. Modric was part of a Croatia side that raced to a 2-0 lead, only to be pegged back in the second half as substitute David Beckham led the fightback.

Mladen Petric, though, bagged the match-winner 13 minutes from time for Croatia. In England, however, the lasting image of the match was then-manager Steve McClaren shouting instructions to his players on the pitch from under an umbrella, giving rise to the infamous nickname of “The Wally with the Brolly” that has followed him throughout his career.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Croatia
June 16 — Croatia 2, Nigeria 0 (Etebo 32′ (og), Modric 71′ (PK))
June 21 — Croatia 3, Argentina 0 (Rebic 53′, Modric 80′, Rakitic 90+1′)
June 26 — Croatia 2, Iceland 1 (Badelj 50′, G. Sigurdsson 76′ (PK), Perisic 90′)
July 1 — Croatia 1, Denmark 1 (Jorgensen 1′, Mandzukic 4′) (Croatia wins 3-2 on PKs)
July 7 — Croatia 2, Russia 2 (Cheryshev 31′, Kramaric 39′, Vida 101′, Fernandes 115′) (Croatia wins 4-3 on PKs)

England
June 18 — England 2, Tunisia 1 (Kane 11′, Sassi 35′ (PK), Kane 90+1′)
June 24 — England 6, Panama 1 (Stones 8′, Kane 22′ (PK), Lingard 36′, Stones 40′, Kane 45+1′ (PK), Kane 62′, Baloy 78′)
June 28 — England 0, Belgium 1 (Januzaj 51′)
July 3 — England 1, Colombia 1 (Kane 57′ (PK), Mina 90+3′) (England wins 4-3 on PKs)
July 7 — England 2, Sweden 0 (Maguire 30′, Alli 59′)

FORMATIONS

While left back Ivan Strinic’s status has yet to be confirmed after he had to leave before the final quarter-hour of regulation versus Russia due to a knock, the hedge is he claims his spot back while knocking Pivaric back to the bench. Coach Zlatko Dalic has gone back and forth between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1, with Modric lurking deeper in the latter formation and teaming with Rakitic in the former.

One other thing to look for from the Vatreni is how Marcelo Brozovic changes their shape. When he entered for Perisic on the hour, Croatia went to more of a 4-3-3 look with Kramaric pushing forward.

England will remain in its 3-3-2-2 set-up, though there will undoubtedly be speculation manager Gareth Southgate will drop Raheem Sterling from his starting XI as the Man City speedster has now gone more than 1,000 days without a goal for the Three Lions. The only player who comes closest to a like-for-like switch in such an instance would be Marcus Rashford, who entered as a stoppage-time sub for Sterling versus Sweden.

INJURIES AND INELIGIBLES

Croatia has been playing with 22 men since after its win over Nigeria to open the World Cup, sending home disgruntled striker Nikola Kalinic. Strinic is an injury concern, and the fatigue of playing 120 minutes in back-to-back matches means Dalic could juggle some players in this match.

Right back Sime Vrsaljko is also a worry to be match-fit, with Dalic having the option of inserting Tin Jedvaj there or moving Vida wide while pairing Lovren with Vedran Corluka in central defense.

The Vatreni, though, did pull off a remarkable feat in that while they accrued a tournament-high 12 yellow cards, everyone is eligible to play since no one picked up a second booking before they were wiped away by getting to the semifinals.

England’s lone injury worry is reserve striker Jamie Vardy, who picked up a groin injury versus Colombia and did not appear last match. There are reports the training staff are closely monitoring central midfielder Jordan Henderson, who covered two kilometers more ground than any of his teammates in the win versus Sweden.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia — Luka Modric (MF)

Modric is no stranger to English football, having played for Tottenham Hotspur before moving on to Real Madrid and winning four Champions League titles in the last five years. The 32-year-old has looked more 22 in pulling the strings in the Vatreni midfield and was doggedly pursuing the ball and attacking defenders on lung-busting runs deep into extra time versus Russia.

He has been the best midfielder at this World Cup, and the young Three Lions must be wary of his nous and quality as Croatia’s offense revolves around his movements.

England — Kieran Trippier (MF)

Trippier has played very well in this World Cup, pumping in a team-high 37 crosses and 16 corner kicks. He has contributed an assist in the latter method, and while he will get his chances to do so in this match, Trippier is going to have to give serious minutes in defense for the first time in this tournament given Croatia’s depth in attack.

It will start with Perisic, though Modric and Rakitic will invariably work their way down their left side. Trippier cannot afford to be caught too far upfield and too wide given how Croatia can string passes together in lightning-like fashion, evidenced by their first goal against Russia which took all of 12 seconds.

WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD

This will be the first World Cup clash between the teams, and England won the only tournament meeting between the sides, a 4-2 victory in the group stage of the 2004 European Championship in Portugal. Niko Kovac staked Croatia to an early lead before England scored the next three through Paul Scholes and a brace by Wayne Rooney. Igor Tudor pulled one back for the Vatreni on 73 minutes, but Frank Lampard put the game out of reach six minutes later.

England did sweep two qualifying matches from Croatia for the 2010 World Cup by a combined 9-2 scoreline, clinching a spot in South Africa with a 5-1 thrashing in September 2009 as both Lampard and Steven Gerrard had braces before Rooney added gloss to the scoreline. Mandzukic scored the Vatreni’s lone goal in the 4-1 defeat in Croatia.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, England is listed as a favorite with 13/10 odds, while Croatia is a 12/5 underdog. The odds of the match going to a draw are 2/1. The oddsmakers also think there will be two goals scored in the 90 minutes as that returns 23/10 odds, slightly better than one goal (27/10) and three (7/2). A 0-0 draw would return 6/1 odds.

Kane is the odds-on favorite as an any-time goal-scorer at 13/10, with Rakitic a distant second at 9/2. Kane is also leading the line for first goal-scorer at 16/5, with Vardy a surprising second at 5/1. Mandzukic is Croatia’s top option at 6/1, and Sterling is the fifth option for the Three Lions at 7/1, behind both Rashford and Danny Welbeck at 13/2.

PREDICTION

Too young, they said. Too inexperienced, they said. It’s OK, we’re in a rebuilding phase, they said. We’ll be happy to get out of the group stage, they said. Nearly a month later, non-stop scenes of goal celebrations complete with the re-emergence of 1996 Euro anthem “It’s Coming Home,” England find itself two wins away from an unthinkable World Cup title.

The Three Lions have looked good in dispatching each opponent they have faced save the 25 minutes against Colombia in which they wobbled, giving up a late equalizer in regulation and suffering in the first extra period. Yet they are deserved semifinalists, and as the old adage goes, you can only play the teams in front of you.

Yet if there is a last gear this team has left to reach, it must find it quickly against a veteran-edged Croatia side that has more talent and nous than any opponent England has previously faced during its extended stay in Russia. Consider the Three Lions opponents: an unfancied Tunisia, an inferior Panama, a second-string Belgium, a Colombia missing its best player through injury and a Sweden squad that while game may also have been the perfect opponent coming off a 120-minute contest.

Now consider Croatia’s foes: A naive yet talented Nigeria, a top-heavy Argentina, a desperate but outclassed Iceland, an average Denmark side with a world-class shot-stopper and overachieving host Russia. The Vatreni have played an extra 30 minutes compared to England to get to the last four, and their road has been more arduous.

Yet there are plenty of places where England can take solace. Kane got so into Lovren’s head in a Premier League match last season when Tottenham Hotspur played Liverpool that the Croatia defender was subbed out a half-hour into the match. The spine of Maguire and John Stones in central defense have been nothing short of phenomenal doing their primary job while carrying forward with the ball and contributing goals off set pieces.

Pickford is coming off the best match of his England career and riding a wave of confidence. That will come in handy because at some point Modric will be able to recycle Croatia’s offense in England’s final third and put the Three Lions under sustained pressure.

It’s fair to wonder how much Croatia has left in the tank coming off back-to-back shootouts, but being able to rest most of its regulars versus Iceland helped mitigate some of that fatigue. Dalic has also shown a willingness to rotate his attacking players, complete with the surprising lifting of Perisic on the hour versus Russia.

This game has the feel of a rope-a-dope by Croatia unless England harries Modric and Rakitic all over the midfield and prevents them from passing forward in rapid fashion. Modric is the more dangerous passer of the two, the one who causes moments of disruption as opposed to the more fluid Rakitic, but the X-factor for the Vatreni could be Ante Rebic.

Rebic has stretches of play when he is borderline unstoppable, but he has yet to sustain it over a full 90 minutes. If he can hook up with Mandzukic, also owning the potential to be a handful, Croatia has a good chance to go forward to its first World Cup final and deny England its long-awaited return and extend 52 years of hurt.

PREDICTION: Croatia 2, England 1

UP NEXT

The winner of this match will face the winner of the France-Belgium match in the World Cup final on Sunday in Moscow. The semifinal losers will play each other for third place Saturday in St. Petersburg.

 

World Cup Recap Match 39 — Croatia 2, Iceland 1 (June 26)

Ivan Perisic’s goal in the 90th minute crushed Iceland’s dreams of reaching the round of 16 at the World Cup as Croatia completed a sweep of its three matches in Group D with a 2-1 victory Tuesday in Rostov-on-Don.

The Strakarnir Okkar had gotten a lifeline through Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty that leveled the match in the 76th minute and could have advanced with another goal after Argentina had taken a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute against Nigeria in the other Group D match in St. Petersburg.

But Milan Badelj, who scored Croatia’s first goal in the 53rd minute, dispossessed Emil Halfredsson and sent Perisic through on the left, and Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson did not get enough of his right hand on the striker’s left-footed shot from 10 yards as it sailed inside the right post.

Croatia, which was already assured passage into the knockout round before kickoff, will now play Group D runner-up in Denmark on Sunday in Nizhny Novogorod. It will be the Vatreni’s first appearance there since their third-place showing in their maiden World Cup in 1998.

Iceland finished last in its group on one point — gained against two-time champion Argentina — despite three competitive matches, unable to duplicate its surprising run to the knockout round from two years ago when it reached the European Championship quarterfinals in its first major tournament in club history. The smallest country at the World Cup with a population of 340,000, Iceland again earned the affection of neutrals in addition to the Russian locals with its large traveling fan base and Viking clap that electrified crowds around their venues.

These teams were no strangers to each other after Iceland pipped Croatia in their World Cup qualifying group, avenging a two-legged playoff loss for a berth in Brazil four years ago. The result was a cagey affair for most of the first half. Croatia made nine changes to its starting XI from the side that flattened Argentina, leaving Perisic and playmaker Luka Modric, while Iceland made three, most notably restoring Johann Berg Gudmundsson after he had missed the Nigeria loss due to a calf injury.

The first eventful moment of the match came in the 12th minute when Birkir Bjaranason took a swipe in the face from Marko Pjaca, bloodying the Iceland midfielder and resulting in a stoppage of play that required treatment and a yellow card for the Croatian.

There was little in the way of scoring chances until the 27th minute when Hordur Magnusson nodded on a long throw from Aron Gunnarsson across the face of goal that went unanswered. Magnusson then headed a corner wide as the Strakarnir Okkar began to probe Croatia’s defense in search of the all-important first goal.

Just after the half-hour, Sigurdsson had a free kick from 30 yards that Lovre Kalinic comfortably caught inside the left post, and Bjarnason had a shot from 10 yards knocked away after it had fallen to him following a corner. Iceland fashioned two scoring chances before halftime, but Alfred Finnbogason went narrowly wide of the right post from 18 yards after working a 1-2 with Sigurdsson, and Gunnarsson’s curling right-footed effort was parried wide by Kalinic shortly before the whistle.

Badelj fired a warning shot for Croatia in the 51st minute when his long-range effort cannoned off the crossbar, and word got through shortly thereafter Nigeria had pulled level through a Victor Moses penalty to heap on the pressure on Iceland. The Vatreni broke through on a goal by Badelj, whose first-time volley from 15 yards off a deflection beat Halldorsson inside the left post.

Iceland quickly sought to counter, forcing Kalinic into a quality save by tipping Sverir Ingi Ingason’s effort over the bar. On the ensuing corner, Ingason skimmed the crossbar with an unmarked header. Croatia lifted Modric on 65 minutes, which helped Iceland gain a semblance of possession, and then went defensive by bringing on Dejan Lovren in the 70th minute.

But it was Lovren’s clear handball on a cross by Sigurdsson that was whistled by referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz that allowed Iceland a chance to pull level. After missing a penalty against Nigeria, Sigurdsson made no mistake with this one, lashing the spot kick down the middle and just under the crossbar to make it 1-1.

In the 88th minute, Argentina pulled ahead 2-1, setting the stage for Iceland to find its way through with a late strike, but Perisic’s quality effort ensured there would be no fairy tale ending for the Strakarnir Okkar.