Croatia rallies past England to reach World Cup final

Gareth Southgate

"Semi-finals, they've done what they had to do, they took us to the semi-finals".

That focus on collective success over individual achievement has been key to England's success this summer, putting them within touching distance of joining the heroes of 1966 as the only team to make a World Cup final.

Remarkably, that was not the first time that had been attempted this tournament.

The dream ended for supporters in Moscow and at home as Gareth Southgate's men lost 2-1 to Croatia in the semi-final after extra time.

England could not have imagined a better start.

This group, however, have gone one better and will get the chance to avenge the defeat of 20 years ago when they face the French on Sunday back at the same Luzhniki Stadium.

Croatia's previous best showing at the World Cup was a semifinal final loss against France in 1998. They topped an extremely hard group that included perennial title contenders Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria. "What the lads played tonight is fantasy, they've made history".

Trippier struck the ball with his right foot and it rose above leaping Dejan Lovren and Mandzukic to the left of the desperate dive of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, who turned his head and watched the ball land in the upper corner.

"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. Croatia within inches of taking the lead.

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"The players have to go through big matches and experiences to become a team that can win".

"I agree Croatia has several more experienced players", Juventus forward Mandzukic said. We are probably beyond where we thought we might be able to go. All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying: 'OK, today we will see who will be exhausted.' They should be more humble and respect their opponents more.

But Croatia, having won on penalties against Denmark and Russian Federation in the last two rounds, saw the game out, dousing the World Cup dream of Gareth Southgate's side that had gone from the improbable to the possible over the last month in Russian Federation.

But Southgate thinks talk of that handing a physical advantage to England is being overplayed.

The contribution of Raheem Sterling remains a polarizing debate in England with the Manchester City player without a goal for his country since October, 2015 but Southgate says the forward's contribution in Russian Federation has been essential.

But despite dominating much of the first half, England were unable to extend to lead, with Jesse Lingard missing a great chance to make it 2-0 after shooting wide.

Neither team came to Russian Federation being heralded as favourites but they have produced performances throughout the competition which have shown they were underestimated by the pundits.

If Gareth Southgate can avoid a similar fate, he may have to amend his official title to include the prefix "Sir" in the Queen's end of year honor list.

Police estimated as many as 10,000 England fans were in the Russian capital for the game. Mandzukic is a nightmare to play against, as Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker found out.

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    Both sides played out a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes before heading into the spot kicks where the Croats at the end of the game. It will be a battle again but I believe in us. "We have two matches to play, we are very motivated, we will give our all".
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