It’s Going Home — England Runs Out Of Set Pieces In 2-1 Loss To Croatia

It’s not coming home as England will have to wait even longer for a second World Cup after extra time loss.

The common refrain throughout the 2018 World Cup from England fans is: It’s coming home. Well, the Three Lions are coming home — empty handed. 

Mario Mandzukic scored in the 109th minute as Croatia beat England 2-1 in extra time on Wednesday to reach the World Cup final. The Blazers will face France in the final on Sunday, the nation's first ever trip to the final. Les Bleus scored a 1-0 win over whining Belgium on Tuesday. England will play Belgium in the Tottenham Classic third-place game on Saturday. 

The loss means England must wait at least another four years for its second World Cup title, having only won the one as host in 1966. In the end, the Three Lions couldn't create anything that didn't come from set pieces, scoring nine of 12 goals from set pieces. 

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Croatia meanwhile becomes the smallest nation to reach the World Cup final behind only Uruguay in 1930. The Blazers did it the hard way, going through three extra-time matches to reach the final. 

England vs Croatia Highlights — First Half

England couldn’t have asked for a better start when Luka Modric made a clumsy foul on Dele Alli right outside the box in the opening minutes. Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier stepped up to smash a beautiful free kick for the game’s opening goal. 

What a way to score your first international goal.

England didn’t rest on its 1-0 lead like many teams do in such a situation and had the better of the opportunities in the remainder of the first half. Harry Kane somehow missed (twice) with only the keeper to beat, and though the AR raised his flag for offside, VAR would have allowed the goal. 

Later in the half, Jesse Lingard was given the ball in the middle of the 18-yard box only to shank his shot wide.

Croatia did work a chance in the dying minutes of the first half. Ivan Rakitic brought the ball down in the box but couldn’t find space to take a shot.

England vs Croatia Highlights — Second Half

Aside from assaulting Kyle Walker’s nether regions, Croatia didn’t threaten Jordan Pickford’s goal in the first 15 minutes of the second half. But momentum began to shift around the 65th minute. The Blazers then broke through with a flying kick from Ivan Perisic. 

The goal changed the match for the better, with both sides picking up their intensity going forward. 

Perisic nearly doubled his tally moments later when his shot went off the far post.

In the 77th minute, Lingard was played in by Harry Kane but his cross/shot found nothing but the corner flag. Back the other way Mario Mandzukic brought down a chipped through ball and volleyed straight at Pickford. 

Despite a wide open final 15 minutes, the match went to extra time. 

England vs Croatia Highlights — Extra Time

The best chance of the first half of extra time fell to England center back John Stones. The Manchester City defender header a corner kick toward goal only for Sime Vrsaljko to head it off the line. 

Just before the end of the opening half of extra time, Pickford denied Mandzukic from point-blank range. The cross and shot were near inch perfect — but so was the save.

In the 108th minute Croatia nearly punished England for switching off ahead of a corner kick when a low pass was played in to Marcelo Brozovic, but the midfielder’s shot failed to hit the target from a good location.

That lack of England intensity was then punished moments later. Mandzukic reacted first to a header into the box from Perisic and the Juventus forward made easy work of the finish to put Croatia up 2-1.

England then tried to pull a Panama by scoring while Croatia celebrated. 

In the 116th minute, as Mandzukic was subbed out for center back Verdan Corluka, Trippier hobbled off with an apparent groin injury. England had to play a man down for the remainder of the match.

Croatia had a chance to make it 3-1 in the 120 minute, but Andrej Kramaric was selfish and hit his shot wide into the side netting. 

The Vatreni then milked the clock just enough to keep England off the scoreboard to advance to the final. 

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