In Summary
  • England made an electric start with Kieran Trippier's early goal and for a large period of the game looked good value to book their passage to the final for the first time since 1966, but Croatia somehow battled through their apparent jadedness and tamed the Three Lions in extra-time, Mandzukic landing the decisive blow.
  • Gareth Southgate consistently downplayed the euphoria in his team in the build-up, and for a while England gave every indication they were going to take charge of their own destiny, as Trippier found the net with a delightful free-kick in the fifth minute.

MOSCOW

Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal deep in extra time as Croatia beat England 2-1 in an utterly gripping World Cup semi-final in Moscow on Wednesday to set up a final date with France.

The Juventus forward netted in the 109th minute to complete a remarkable comeback from a shattered Croatian team and take the small nation of little more than four million people into the World Cup final for the first time in their short history.

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (second left) shoots and scores his team's second goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | JEWEL SAMAD | AFP

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (second left) shoots and scores his team's second goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | JEWEL SAMAD | AFP

Croatia's Mario Mandzukic (left) celebrates his goal with Ivan Perisic during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES |

Croatia's Mario Mandzukic (left) celebrates his goal with Ivan Perisic during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES |

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (centre-left) and Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic (centre second right) speak to AFP photographer Yuri Cortez (centre) after falling on him with teammates while celebrating their second goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | JEWEL SAMAD | AFP

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (centre-left) and Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic (centre second right) speak to AFP photographer Yuri Cortez (centre) after falling on him with teammates while celebrating their second goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | JEWEL SAMAD | AFP

Kieran Trippier's magnificent early free-kick had seemingly set England on course to reach their first final since they lifted the trophy on home soil back in 1966.

Croatia's goalkeeper Danijel Subasic (back) concedes from a free-kick during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT |

Croatia's goalkeeper Danijel Subasic (back) concedes from a free-kick during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT |

England's defender Kieran Trippier (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | ALEXANDER NEMENOV | AFP

England's defender Kieran Trippier (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | ALEXANDER NEMENOV | AFP

England's defender Kieran Trippier celebrates after scoring a goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV | AFP

England's defender Kieran Trippier celebrates after scoring a goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV | AFP

England's players celebrate the opening goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | ALEXANDER NEMENOV | AFP

England's players celebrate the opening goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | ALEXANDER NEMENOV | AFP

But it wasn't to be, as Croatia came roaring back in the second half and equalised through Ivan Perisic before somehow finding the energy to win despite being taken to extra time for the third time in 10 days.

Croatia's midfielder Ivan Perisic wheels away in celebration after scoring the equaliser during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES

Croatia's midfielder Ivan Perisic wheels away in celebration after scoring the equaliser during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES

Croatia's forward Ivan Perisic (hidden) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | MLADEN ANTONOV | AFP

Croatia's forward Ivan Perisic (hidden) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during their Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final match against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 11, 2018. PHOTO | MLADEN ANTONOV | AFP

The biggest winners of the night could well be France, who have had an extra day's rest for Sunday's final after edging out Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday.

That will not matter too much right now for Croatia, who are the smallest nation to make it to the final since Uruguay back in 1950.

England had been the ones hoping to make history, in what was their first appearance in the semi-finals in 28 years.

Then they were beaten on penalties by West Germany. Having ended their famous penalty curse by beating Colombia in a shootout in the last 16, they might have fancied repeating here.

But Croatia, having won on penalties against Denmark and Russia 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 Russia.

Southgate stuck with the same starting line-up as that which eased past Sweden in the quarter-finals, while Inter Milan's Marcelo Brozovic replaced Andrej Kramaric in the Croatian line-up.

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