Croatia downs England to reach World Cup final
CROATIA has sunk England's World Cup dream in a thrilling extra time clash to take the World Cup's second semi-final in Moscow.
The rampaging wildcards conceded a goal in the first five minutes and went scoreless until Ivan Perisic found the net in the 68th minute via a cross from Šime Vrsaljko.
The equaliser appeared to dash England's fiery streak as they began to make sloppy errors in defence and attack.
Prolific striker Harry Kane, who butchered a shot on goal after a free kick late in the piece, was far from his best in the crucial clash which saw Croatia through to its first World Cup final.
Croatia sunk England's Cup dream early in the second half of extra time after Mario Mandžukić capitalised on a complete breakdown in the opposition's defence.
He jumped on a header from Ivan Perisic, who beat Kieran Trippier in a contest in the air and sent the ball into the box past the tired England defenders.
Twelve minutes remained in the match after the thunderous Croatian effort.
An England offence pressured Croatia into conceding a corner in the 99th minute.
A beautiful header from John Stones, who sat unmarked in the box as Kieran Trippier set up the play, was inches from glory. But a counter header from Sime Vrsaljko off the line saw the opportunity dashed and England sent back to the drawing board.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford blocked what looked to be a sure-fire goal from Mario Mandžukić, who broke through the English defence for an uncontested shot on target.
Pickford's lucky knee to fend the ball away ensured England was still in the fight in the second half of extra time.
Thousands of English fans at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium belted out the national anthem as the final 10 minutes of regular time loomed.
Croatia's second half equaliser put a fire in each side's heart to avoid a heart-stopping semi-final shootout. England looked to lose some steam late in the piece as the rampaging Croatian forward pack continued to pressure the defence.
A free kick awarded to England in the 93rd minute appeared to be their last chance of finishing 2-1. Kieran Trippier launched the ball over the wall to Harry Kane, who failed to capitalise on the crucial moment and mistimed his strike to send the ball out.
England mounted pressure on Croatia after the halftime break as its forward pack repeatedly forced the ball into the opposition half. Jesse Lingard forced a corner in the 58th minute, inviting another scoring opportunity to be set up by Kieran Trippier.
But as yet another shot on target was left hanging by the wayside, Croatia began making urgent moves to equalise.
A flying Ivan Perisic sent the ball hurtling past Jordan Pickford in the 68th minute after a big cross from Šime Vrsaljko, who broke through wide on the right wing.
A rejuninated Croatia charged back after the restart and narrowly missed a chance after Perisic found a gap through England's sloppy defence via a high bouncing ball. He attempted to send the ball to the right corner but found the post instead.
England took Raheem Sterling, arguably their best player of the night, off for 20-year-old Marcus Rashford for the final 15 minutes.
England fights off tense first half finish
England went into the halftime break with the lead, but it didn't come easy as Croatia threatened to level the score in the 45th minute as star midfielder Luka Modric took a free kick.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford rebounded the deep kick to Ivan Rakitić, who also missed his attempt on goal.
Defender Harry Maguire was pulled up after the bell for appearing to hold back Croatian star Dejan Lovren during the tense moment. The VAR had a good look at the incident as players trudged off to the sheds but eventually cleared the young star of wrongdoing.
"I think they're very, very unlucky," former Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer said.
"I think that's a penalty. That's a penalty. It has to be a penalty. It makes a mockery of the VAR system."
World Cup leading goal scorer Harry Kane looked certain to double England's score as the ball made its dangerous path to the Croatian box in the 30th minute.
The beloved England striker was inches away from being called off-side as he attempted squeezing the ball past goalkeeper Danijel Subašić. The Croatian star dropped to his right and rebounded the ball back to Kane, who tried and failed to boot the ball into the net on the slightest of angles.
Raheem Sterling thwarted another big opportunity for England after shooting prematurely inside the box with Dele Alli open. The ball was blocked and sent back to Kieran Trippier, who butchered his cross and sent the ball flying over everyone and out of play.
England on the charge
An early free kick to England saw them given their first opportunity to sink a goal after star Croatian midfielder Luka Modric fouled Dele Alli inches from the box.
Kieran Trippier expertly curled his kick over the wall and into the top right corner to put the first points on the board within the first five minutes.
"The technique and the execution here is flawless," FOX Sports' Stu Holden said. "Bending, dipping, up over the wall and nestles into the back of the net. Absolute perfection."