World Cup: Croatia writes history to reach final vs France

World Cup: Croatia writes history to reach final vs France Izvor: REUTERS/Darren Staples

In a dramatic match which immediately made Croatian sports history, the Fiery Ones beat England 2-1 after extra time in their World Cup semi-final clash on Wednesday, setting up a showdown against France in the final.

The young England team led by Gareth Southgate opened the match ideally, scoring first in the 5th minute through a superb curling free kick by Kieran Trippier from a few metres outside the box, after Croatia's captain Luka Modric fouled Dele Alli.

England proceeded to dominate throughout the first half, with Raheem Sterling being a constant threat. But the best chance came in the 31st minute through Harry Kane, who hit the woodwork at practically point blank, with the ball bouncing off Croatia's Danijel Subasic.

While plucky England looked confident and easily created chances, Croatia seemed uninspired, with attempts to bring the ball through the flanks for crosses to the lone striker Mario Mandzukic proving fruitless.

The second half started with two more scares for Croatian fans in the opening 15 minutes, with Dejan Lovren managing to deny a header to Kane, and Domagoj Vida and Subasic combining forces to block Sterling's run into the box.

But Croatia stepped up their game just around the hour mark, slowly taking over control on the pitch and increasingly putting pressure on England's defence. In the 68th minute, Sime Vrsaljko went down the right channel to send a cross towards Ivan Perisic, who was quicker than Kyle Walker to slot in an equaliser past England's goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Emboldened, Croatia kept up the pressure and created several excellent plays to create more goalscoring chances before the 90 minutes of regular time was up, sending the game into extra-time.

England again looked like a threat in the first half of extra-time, coming close to getting ahead after a corner cross was met with John Stones' header which beat Subasic, only to be kicked off the goal line by Vrsaljko.

However, only minutes later, Mario Mandzukic, nursing a badly injured knee, ran into England box to latch onto Perisic's headed pass from the left to rifle a world class shot past Pickford, shocking England and releasing an outpour of joy among Croatia's fans and players.

For Croatians, an evening that started as a tragedy at he opening before eventually blossoming into rhapsody ended in an extra-time thriller, exposing their fans to a heart-stopping roller coaster again. Not only did Croatia have to come back from behind to win in their last three matches, this was also Croatia's third match in a row that went to extra-time, and their sixth undefeated game in a row. 

Wednesday's triumph means that Croatia, in its fifth World Cup appearance and only its second semi-final in history, reached the final, and may be only one match away from winning the tournament.

On Sunday, their opponents will be 1998 winners France, the same national team that had knocked out Croatia in the semi-final 20 years earlier.

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