World Cup: Croatia beats England, advances to first final

By Alex Butler  |  July 11, 2018 at 6:09 PM
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July 11 (UPI) -- Mario Mandzukic scored in the 109th minute, giving Croatia a 2-1 win against England on Wednesday in Russia and sending the nation to its first World Cup final.

The Croatian forward sealed the 2018 World Cup quarterfinal matchup in the second half of extra time at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Midfielder Ivan Perisic blindly headed the ball into the England box during the play. The flick went over the defense and directly in front of Mandzukic. The Croatian ran in and belted the feed off of a bounce, ripping it into the far post netting and beating England's Jordan Pickford.

"Unbelievable," Mandzukic told Fox Sports in a postgame interview. "I just spoke with our players and we are not even aware of what just happened.

"Only the great teams can be that great and come back after 1-0 ... after a power like England and play this tournament with heart like that. You can see, everything is burning."

England's Kieran Trippier started the scoring Wednesday, netting his first international goal in the fifth minute of the semifinal. Trippier stepped up for a free kick from about 25 yards out on the play. He smacked the ball over a wall of defenders and into the top right corner of the net, beating Danijel Subasic for first blood.

Croatia could not find the net in the first half, leading England fans to believe they could clinch a spot in the World Cup finale if they could keep a clean sheet in the second stanza. But Croatia finally broke through in the 68th minute on another act of brilliance from Parisic.

Defender Sime Vrsaljko set up the play. The Croatian sent a deep cross toward the back post as Parisic bolted in front of the goal and flicked the ball into the far post netting past Pickford for the equalizer.

"I think we played extremely well in the first half," England manager Gareth Southgate said. "Given the size of the game, I was really pleased with the way we controlled possession. Our decision making was good.

"When you are in charge of the game, as we were, and you have the chances we had, you probably need to take a second gaol at that point. In the second half we had a little less composure with the ball for a period ... great credit to Croatia, they came really strong. They obviously have some outstanding players and some huge experience on that team."

Croatia and France clash for World Cup glory at 11 a.m. Sunday in Moscow. France last won the World Cup in 1998 while Croatia is the second-smallest country to ever compete for a title.

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