Ivan Perisic cancelled out an England free kick and set up Mario Mandzukic’s extra time winner, as Croatia will face France in the World Cup Final.
This was a huge opportunity for both nations and a relatively unexpected one, as Croatia had reached the semi-final only once before in 1998, while England got there only in 1966 and 1990. Gareth Southgate kept the same line-up again, while Marcelo Brozovic stepped into the XI with Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Strinic, plus Sime Vrsaljko recovered from injury.
The Three Lions have been dominated by set plays during this tournament and managed to break the deadlock within five minutes from a direct free kick, as Kieran Trippier curled a fine finish over the wall and into the top corner, his first ever England goal.
The Croatians were inevitably more fatigued than their opponents, having gone through extra time and penalties in two consecutive matches.
Inter winger Perisic saw his strike clip a heel to flash just wide, but didn’t even get a corner. Harry Kane sprung the offside trap and first tested Danijel Subasic, then hit the post from point-blank range.
Jesse Lingard curled wide and the Croatian possession failed to create chances, instead Domigoj Vida got away with a risky tackle in the box on Raheem Sterling.
Perisic was their most dangerous player and saw a strike charged down in the box by Kyle Walker. The Inter star eventually got the equaliser, a very high foot to volley in a Vrsaljko cross from the right just ahead of Walker’s head. It was his fourth World Cup goal, second only to Davor Suker for Croatia.
The Nerazzurri talent almost turned it around completely moments later, his angled drive bouncing off the inside of the far post after a defensive error, the second time he hit the woodwork in this tournament.
His Inter teammate Marcelo Brozovic blasted over from a corner and Mandzukic’s half-volley on the turn from a Brozovic assist stung the gloves of Jordan Pickford, as Croatia suddenly took control.
Perisic sailed his finish over the bar after another defensive misunderstanding, while Kane nodded wide from a free kick in stoppages.
England were about to score again from a corner in extra time, but Vrsaljko was there to clear a John Stones header off the line. It was only their second shot on target after the opening goal.
Perisic put in a marvellous cross for Mandzukic, but Pickford bravely rushed out for a desperate save from point-blank range. Brozovic also wasted a good chance from a corner, but two Serie A players combined to give Croatia the lead. Perisic knocked down a loose ball and Mandzukic reacted quicker than the England defenders to fire in from six yards.
The Juventus striker eventually hobbled off with cramp and Pickford almost spilled a Brozovic snapshot. England were down to 10 men for the final four minutes, as he suffered a groin strain mere moments after the fourth substitution was used up.
Andrej Kramaric should’ve made it 3-1, but hit the side-netting rather than squaring to Perisic. England had a free kick four minutes into added time of extra time, but it was cleared comfortably and Croatia go to the World Cup Final against France.
Croatia 2-1 England (aet)
Trippier 5 (E), Perisic 68 (C), Mandzukic 109 (C)
Croatia: Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pivaric 95); Modric (Badelj 118), Brozovic, Rakitic; Rebic (Kramaric 101), Mandzukic (Corluka 115), Perisic
England: Pickford; Walker (Vardy 112), Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Lingard, Henderson (Dier 97), Alli, Young (Rose 90); Sterling (Rashford 74), Kane
Ref: Cakir (TUR)