England out after Mandzukic's extra-time strike sends Croatia to World Cup final
Dan Mullan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It's not coming home.

England will leave Russia empty-handed after Mario Mandzukic bagged a winner for Croatia 109 minutes into a nervy semi-final.

Croatia played 120 minutes in each of its three knockout matches to reach Sunday's World Cup final against France. Kyle Walker's desperate clearance was nodded back over him by Ivan Perisic and into the path of Mandzukic, who ghosted in behind John Stones and whacked beyond Jordan Pickford.

The decisive effort followed Kieran Trippier's sublime free-kick just five minutes into the game, and Ivan Perisic's equaliser midway through the second half.

England looked to take advantage of any Croatian hangovers after Zlatko Dalic's men endured two gruelling shifts prior to the semi-final meeting, so began rapidly. It was a combination between Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli - the latter fouled after receiving a tidy flick from the former - that gave England an early free-kick around three yards short of the D. Trippier, the "Bury Beckham," gave his country the lead with only five minutes on the clock.

Trippier continued to be influential, Raheem Sterling was expertly stretching Croatia's backline, and Harry Kane should have scored when his close-range shot hit the post and flicked off Danijel Subasic. The linesman flagged offside, but if Kane converted it would have likely counted following video review.

Lingard was another player guilty of wasting an opportunity when his shot from the edge of the area went harmlessly wide after good work from Alli. As for Croatia, the channels that Perisic and Ante Rebic were trying to explore were often cut off by the athleticism of Walker and Harry Maguire.

There was evidence of Croatia getting to grips with the encounter before the interval, and when the second half was underway it was clear England sat deeper and was struggling to maintain possession. The Three Lions' tentativeness was punished when Perisic met Sime Vrsaljko's cross between Trippier and Walker and hooked the ball past Pickford.

England was all over the place. Composure and organisation were out of the window. Perisic hit the post when a Jordan Henderson slip and mix-up between Stones and Pickford allowed him to collect the ball, skin Trippier, and aim for the far corner. England's defending was desperate and the midfield was nowhere to be seen as Croatia pushed to take the lead.

England clung on, but could have nicked it at the death when Kane headed a set-piece into the turf and wide. For the second time this tournament, Gareth Southgate was conducting an on-pitch team talk ahead of extra time.

Just like the start of normal time, Croatia was second-best to begin the additional half an hour. A header from Stones was denied by Vrsaljko on the line after 99 minutes, and Danny Rose, introduced in place of Ashley Young before extra time started, brought some much-needed energy.

But, once again, Croatia was knocking. Perisic swung in a cross from the left in the dying seconds of extra time's first half, but Pickford bravely dived to the feet of Mandzukic and deflected his effort away with his knee.

Even before the match's fourth period, fatigue had slowed the pace of the game down; mishits and miscommunication were rife. Stones looked particularly tired when Mandzukic got in behind him and struck the winner.

Despite some poor decision-making by Croatians in attack, England could not fashion its own clear-cut chances at the other end of the park. The Three Lions will take on Belgium for the second time this tournament in Saturday's third-place play-off, with the pair playing out a dire 1-0 win in favour of the Red Devils back on June 28.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Comments
England out after Mandzukic's extra-time strike sends Croatia to World Cup final
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!