England are out of the World Cup following a 2-1 defeat by Croatia. Kieran Trippier’s direct free-kick put a strong Three Lions ahead early, but Ivan Perišić drew his side level in the second half as they started to come into the game more. Mario Mandžukić was the Croatian hero, scoring the winner early in the second period of added time.
Gareth Southgate named an unchanged starting XI for the third match in a row, meaning Eric Dier and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were again on the bench. Croatia were able to name a dangerous team with the full force of their all-star midfield including captain Luka Modrić, Perišić, Rakitić and Brozović in support of Mandžukić. Goalkeeper Danijel Subašić was also able to start, despite struggling with cramp towards the end of their quarter-final defeat of Russia.
England were ahead in the first five minutes, thanks to a central free-kick from Trippier which dipped over the wall and in for the Spurs right-back’s first England goal.
In an open, free-flowing first half, England had the majority of chances and possession, restricting Croatia to shots from range and speculative through-balls. Croatia looked rattled after England’s early goal, having played 120 minutes in both of their previous games.
Harry Maguire was dangerous from set pieces and had several chances with his head. Harry Kane looked lively with the ball at his feet and was flagged offside after poking just wide. He was then denied another goal towards the Golden Boot in a great position first by goalkeeper Subašić and then the near post.
Ante Rebić was a threat for Croatia as the half wore on, however, England’s dogged defensive line, particularly Maguire and Kyle Walker plus fullbacks Trippier and Ashley Young, managed to keep out the Croatians. John Stones cut out a promising cross after a rare flash of attacking brilliance, which escaped to Rebić who stung Jordan Pickford’s palms with a ferocious long shot.
Jesse Lingard then attempted to double England’s lead but placed his shot wide from the edge of the area after some great work down the left from Kane and Dele Alli.
Croatia gave England a late warning on the stroke of half-time with a scramble in the area, but Rakitić failed to find the net. There was a VAR call as the players walked off for half-time, but the England defence was quickly cleared of any fouls.
England looked to be cruising at the break, but their experience against Columbia would have prevented any complacency with the scoreline.
England’s attack looked just as fluid to start the second period, and their defence just as dogged as the Croatian attack put on more pressure.
A Trippier cross almost found Kane with a diving header, but it was cut out by some excellent last-ditch defending from Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren. Ivan Rakitić then lashed a desperate shot way over England’s bar.
There were weak penalty calls from Raheem Sterling after a promising chance before heroic defending from Kyle Walker saw him flying into the way of the ball. A half-hearted VAR call emerged from the melee with nothing given again.
However, Croatia could have quite conceivably taken the lead in a devastating spell of pressure around the 70 minute mark. Inter midfielder Perišić leapt above Kyle Walker and rifled home to draw the sides level, with Croatia firmly on top.
Perišić was denied a brace just moments later when he fired against the post, with Rebić unable to bury the rebound, a real let off for a shell-shocked England.
However, the young Three Lions team rallied. Lingard flashed across the face of goal but a prowling Alli couldn’t quite connect. Marcus Rashford was looking a real danger after his introduction as a substitute, almost connecting with several chances and using his fresh legs to create some good openings, while Jordan Henderson skied a shot.
The England defence suffered a few more shaky moments with Croatia still looking the better side.
As both teams tired towards the end of regulation time, Croatia’s attacking sloppiness returned. Rashford drew a free-kick from Rakitić in stoppage time but Kane couldn’t head Trippier’s delivery on target, which bounced agonisingly up off the turf and sent the teams into extra-time.
Set-piece specialists England kept looking for a way through as chances emerged at both ends during the extra thirty minutes. A fierce Stones header from a corner was cleared off the line by Šime Vrsaljko.
Pickford, arguably England’s man of the match, had to be alert and brave as he came out to superbly thwart Mandžukić with his shin.
In the second period, Brozović ghosted in but was unable to clinch the decisive goal as the game became more cagey.
However, it wasn’t long before Mandžukić evaded Stones after England failed to clear through Alli and Trippier and was able to lash in the winner with 12 minutes remaining.
The late introduction of Jamie Vardy couldn’t help England find the breakthrough they needed in an agonising final ten minutes, meaning Croatia will face France on Sunday’s final.
The unfancied England, who have united the nation, will return home from Russia with pride and to a heroes’ welcome. There is still a chance for them to bring back some well-deserved medals in Saturday’s third place playoff against Belgium, with both teams expected to field much stronger teams than they did in Belgium’s 1-0 win in the final group game.
The match will also give Harry Kane an opportunity to seal the competition’s golden boot, which he will take home if France’s Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe fail to score hat-tricks in the final and England’s defence can keep Romelu Lukaku quiet.