Croatia 2 - 1 England
Croatia: Perisic 68’ Mandzukic 109’
England: Trippier 5’
Football will not be coming home, as Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and England fall at the semi-final stage to Dejan Lovren and Croatia. The Liverpool man put in another strong showing for The Three Lions, but in the end goalscoring let the side down, with Harry Kane missing a pair of golden chances that would have sealed the match.
That, in many ways, was the story of the night for England—they failed to seal it in a match that by all rights they probably should have won well before Croatia’s second-half equaliser and extra time winner. And, for a long while, it looked like they would. That they quite nearly had to, such was their first half advantage in the run of play.
England came out flying, and it took just five minutes for Kieran Trippier to score the opener with a perfectly placed free kick to the top corner. Then, with an early lead in hand, England continued to press while Croatia looked rattled and spent the first 45 minutes struggling to hold on—with some help from a lenient referee who tried to let the game flow.
Lovren in particular was given the benefit of the doubt, being let off the hook for three separate fouls that might have been yellow on another evening. The defender seemed to take the approach that if the referee wasn’t going to call the game tight, he was going to take advantage of it, and given the result it’s hard to blame him.
Even with the referee’s leniency it was something of a minor miracle that Croatia entered the second half down just that one goal, but given the chance to regroup they looked better to start the second and slowly grew into the match, and while England still had the edge to start, the gap wasn’t nearly so pronounced.
And without a second goal, there was always a sense England could be vulnerable—that all it would take was one moment. So it wasn’t entirely a surprise when an absolutely nothing chance in the 68th minute—a hopeful cross from deep into the box with only Ivan Perisic there to try and get his head on it—got Croatia their equaliser.
Suddenly, belatedly, Croatia were back in the game. England were the ones who looked rattled as Croatia pushed higher up the pitch, pressed and tackled and forced turnovers. Three minutes later they struck the post. And they kept pushing, all the way until the referee blew the whistle on regulation time.
Then, in the 109th minute, Mario Mandzukic won it for them, leaving England players and fans wondering what could have been had the normally reliable Kane been able to take his chances and put the game out of reach for Croatia. We’ll never know for certain, but it’s likely then that England would have been heading to the final.
Instead they’re heading to the third-place game against Belgium on Saturday while Lovren and a tired Croatia side—they’ve gone 120 minutes now in all three of their knockout round matches—are heading to face France in the first World Cup final in their country’s history.