In the second semi-final match-up in the FIFA World Cup, Croatia and England clashed in a tight contest that many predicted would go down the wire.
It was expected that both teams would be tested and the Three Lions drew first blood blood with a Kieran Trippier goal in the first five minutes of the game to give the Englishmen the lead.
This would eventually awaken a spirited Croatian squad that led to Ivan Perisic leveling the score in the 68th minute to send the game to extra time.
As both teams looked for the game-winning goal, it was the Croatians who eventually got the upper-hand as Mario Mandzukic beat Jordan Pickford in the 109th to send Croatia to the World Cup final to face the mighty France squad.
There were many things to pick up in the game but here are a few talking points from the epic semi-final encounter.
ENGLAND ARE BETTER THAN EXPECTED
Even as they bow out of the World Cup, many applaud the Three Lions in what they accomplished throughout the competition.
Not many expected them to reach as far as they have and they were less than 30 minutes away from reaching the final if not for Perisic’s goal.
Gareth Southgate’s men were impressive especially in set-pieces as they converted nine goals in dead-ball situations and it shows a sign of their decisiveness and that they know how to take advantage of small breaks in the game.
Stars have emerged like Trippier who has been important in England’s key set-pieces. Harry Maguire also looks like the future of England’s defence as he has been reliable, along with John Stones in a surprisingly strong back line for the Three Lions.
In the game against Croatia, especially in the first half, the Englishmen showed that they have a lot of positives to work with in the coming international competitions.
CROATIA CAN MAKE TACTICAL CHANGES TO HELP THEM
In the first half, Croatia found it difficult to pierce through the English defence and being a goal down early put them in a tough situation.
Luckily, coach Zlatko Dalic had the presence of mind to only make minor changes within the team instead of making hasty decisions that could have spelled their doom.
In the second half, Croatia tried to stretch the English defence by fielding in Perisic and Ante Rebic further down the final third to stretch the Englishmen’s defensive stance.
This resulted in the Croatian midfield of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to freely move around the midfield, stretching the Three Lions’ midfield as they were unable to keep up with the passing and movement.
The hole they created was seen in the two Croatian goals where England were unable to stop the link between the midfield and the forwards of their rivals and they paid the price.
CROATIA HAVE WRITTEN THEIR OWN HISTORY
Prior to the World Cup, Croatia had tumultuous months that saw them introduce a new manager, sacking an assistant manager and sending home the back-up striker.
If that affected them in the World Cup, many would understand but it seems that they were never really worried on the pitch.
The Croatians showed their discipline and talent as they won in consecutive extra time games in the World Cup, and are now set to face France in the final as they try to win their first ever title in the competition.
Players like Dejan Lovren have displayed the potential to appear in big games as shown in their clash against England where he kept an eye on England skipper Harry Kane. The Tottenham Hotspur man was barely relevant in the semis clash and if the Croatians can do the same against French they have a realistic chance of winning the World Cup.
France are real favourites, but Croatia will always have the fight in them – as this semi-final clash displayed. Even down a goal in the final third of the game, the Croatians found a way to strike back and dug deep to get the winner.