Croatia is headed to its first World Cup final, staggering off as 2-1 victors against England team that rode destiny as far as it would take it but fell on step short of its goal.
It will be Croatia that play France on Sunday in the World Cup final in Moscow. England will head to St. Petersburg for a rematch with Belgium that neither team wants in the third-place game.
Mandzukic’s goal, after 109 grueling minutes, was Croatia’s second. It was set up by a quick-thinking Ivan Perisic, who saw opportunity in a half-clearance and won it for Mandzukic. Perisic had scored Croatia’s first, another opportunistic goal in the 68th minute that caught out England’s defense — younger, faster, but less experienced in big moments — and negated a fifth-minute free kick by Kieran Trippier.
It was all going so well for England back then. The World Cup. The semifinal. Everything.
Trippier’s goal, a wonderful free kick from just over 20 yards straight out front, had been the perfect start for his team. It soothed any early nerves and set a tone that this was all possible, that England might just reach its first World Cup final since winning the tournament on home soil in 1966.
Instead it will be Croatia that will face France — its first appearance in a World Cup final 20 years after its first and only semifinal at France 1998