Well done to Croatia. Luka Modric and co were the better team and thoroughly deserved to emerge victorious from Wednesday’s tie at the Luzhniki stadium. Despite that and our general overachievement, this was still a difficult result to swallow. I really thought we would kindle in this game, but it appears I was caught up in the whirlwind of excitement Gareth Southgate and his merry men managed to conjure. Despite the result we must thank the team for reigniting everyone’s passion for the national team and slaying the apathy of recent years.
When Kieran Trippier curled in his free kick on 5’ I was starting to dream. As with legendary France full back Lillian Thuram in France 98, he chose a big stage semi-final to score his first national goal. Thuram made 142 appearances for the French national team with his only two goals coming against Croatia in that semi-final. At the age of 27 Trippier, might not have enough time to get to 142 appearances, but he has definitely emerged from this tournament as a true international gem.
Croatia 0 – 1 England
Our chance to cement our place in the final came on 30’ when Harry Kane was put through by Jesse Lingard. Instead of squaring it to Raheem Sterling, he chose to shoot, but his attempt was saved by Subasic. Nine times out of ten Harry Kane would bury a chance like that. This will become the “what if” moment of our tournament.
Half time: Croatia 0 – 1 England
The momentum swung immediately in Croatia’s favour after the break. You can’t let the momentum of game swing into the hands of midfield maestros because you are unlikely to get it back unless you have an effective plan B (e.g. A long ball to an Olivier Giroud). The midfield trio of Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic pulled our midfield apart and maintained control of the entire second half. Jordan Henderson must have been shattered, and I don’t think Dele Alli or Jesse Lingard have ever had to work so hard. Harry Kane effectively became our fourth midfielder as we chased shadows for 45 minutes (Check out the player heat maps here).
It took less than 25 minutes for Ivan Perisic to equalise for Croatia. Croatia’s positioning was forcing us deep and dragging our midfield and wingbacks out of position, creating dangerous space for their full backs. This pressure eventually created an opening for Atletico Madrid’s Sime Vrsaljko to cross for Perisic to bury the equaliser on 68’.
Croatia 1 – 1 England
At this point we were in damage limitation mode. We were being comprehensively out passed by Croatia who ended the game having made 622 passes to our 479. The lively Perisic who appeared immune to fatigue almost won the game in normal time when he beat Kyle Walker to get off a wicked left foot shot that struck the post.
Full time: Croatia 1 – 1 England
Unfortunately, we had no plan B and without opportunities to exploit our set piece magic trick, it was looking like penalties would be our only hope. However, the extra sharpness of Croatia ultimately led to their winner. After a scrappy clearance in our penalty box, the ball lofted around the edge of the area. Perisic managed to rise and head the ball goalward, where the excellent John Stones was unfortunately caught flat footed, allowing Mario Mandzukic to steal a yard and smash home the winner. It wasn’t meant to be.
AET: Croatia 2 – 1 England
Man of the Match: Ivan Perisic
The ambidextrous Inter Milan winger put on a clinic. He scored the leveller, hit the post and got the vital touch that put Mandzukic through to score Croatia’s winner. I’ve seen enough to worry me if he completes his potential transfer to Manchester United.
This tournament has reminded me of how simple international football needs to be. That is why Gareth Southgate managed to get this team so far, because his priority was about keeping it simple and making us efficient at basics. His simple messages stressed maintaining a solid defence (We didn’t concede more than one goal within 90 minutes in any of the games), exploiting teams with our pace and being well drilled to capitalise on set pieces.
It’s now time to build on his formula, add a cutting edge and get this squad ready for Euro 2020. Let’s hope Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are ready by 2020 to help him in finding that cutting edge.
There’s a lot to like about this Croatia side, but I’m struggling to see how they will keep out Kylian MBRAPPP! And if they manage to tame him, it will just turn into the Paul Pogba show. I’m predicting a France win within 90 minutes.