Croatia reaches first World Cup final

Croatia reaches first World Cup final

Croatia reaches first World Cup final

"We had hoped (for this) and we believed in our team, but the feeling when we finally entered the finals can not be compared to anything", said Ivan Kecerin, 41.

Mario Mandzukic scored in the 109th minute as Croatia came from behind to beat England 2-1 after extra time on Wednesday and reach its first World Cup final, where it will face France on Sunday and send the Balkan nation into raptures.

England enjoyed a lot of possession in the early exchanges and stunned Croatia with a goal inside five minutes.

Extra time arrived again and was predictably tense.

England began the first half in truly dominant fashion.

They reached the last four stage for the last time in Italy back in 1990.

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Kane should have scored a second, somehow hitting the post from a matter of yards out.

Raheem Sterling, who will likely play slightly off of Kane, has struggled to replicate his Manchester City form in Russian Federation, while Jesse Lingard, who sometimes struggles to make an impact for Manchester United, appears to be in the form of his life.

England's campaign had been characterised by fearlessness and an ability to keep hold of possession, in such stark contrast to so many disappointing previous tournaments.

But while Croatia's superior quality and command of the ball told in the Luzhniki Stadium, their remarkable levels of energy were also key, with this game the third time they have been forced to negotiate extra time in Russian Federation.

Southgate said: "The biggest thing is you could see [from the reaction of] the supporters, you can tell what the players have given and I can't ask anymore". Mandzukic is a nightmare to play against, as Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker found out. Subs: Kramaric 6, Corluka 5, Pivaric 5.

Dier was immediately into the action as Rose broke down the left and crossed for Lingard, who laid it off to the defender to shoot.

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No penalty shootout was needed, though, as Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic struck a killer blow late in the game to break England's hearts. For 70 minutes we battered them. Trippier also had to hobble off with a groin injury, meaning England went down to 10 men as they had used all their subs. A terrible clearance from Subasic presents the ball to England high up the pitch.

Ivan Strinic's error, after a poor clearance from Subasic, nearly let in Sterling but he opted to pass to an offside Harry Kane rather than shoot and the assistant's flag went up. How has that not ended up in the back of the net. A second goal would likely have done it. Kane had the best shot at it, finding himself through on goal, firing at Subasic, then knocking a second effort against the post.

Croatia's defence is considered their weak link with neither Lovren nor centre-back partner Domagoj Vida boasting great pace. Minutes later, the whistle went. Perisic got in there ahead of Walker, who was trying to make the clearance with a header, and the Inter winger flicks home the finish with the outside of his foot!

Croatia, though, must not be taken lightly. The pass across the face of goal for Mandzukic was ideal, but the England goalkeeper came off his line to make the intervention! Wow!

While England enjoyed a relatively stress-free 2-0 win over Sweden in the last eight, Croatia had to come through a grueling extra time against hosts Russian Federation and then a penalty shootout. It looks like his groin has gone and he is hobbling towards the England dugout.

It was his first goal for his country, England's 12th of the tournament and ninth from a set-piece, but it should have added more from open play as it revelled in the space they were being given in the first half.

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The foul by Croatia that led to the free kick was totally unnecessary, too: Modric has been terrific in the World Cup, but his foul on Dele Alli was unnecessary.

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