MOSCOW (Reuters) – Croatia yet again showed their magnificent resilience to come from behind and beat England 2-1 on Wednesday as Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time goal sent them into their first World Cup final and a possible revenge mission against France.
For the third successive knockout game the Croats trailed, this time to Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute free kick, but they fought back once more to force extra time.
Ivan Perisic levelled after 68 minutes and, having got past Denmark and Russia on penalties, Croatia rolled up their sleeves for another extra period.
This time they did not need the shootout as, seemingly gaining in energy when they should have been on their knees, they took charge and won it when Mandzukic struck with a well-taken low shot in the 109th minute.
“This tournament will be won by a team with character. We were 1-0 down in three games in a row,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said.
“For Croatian football and the country this is history being written – I can’t think of a smaller country to reach the final.”
Croatia become the 13th team to contest the final and the first new finalists since Spain in 2010.
Since their dream run to the last four in 1998, their first tournament as an independent nation, Croatia have failed to get past the group stage, with every subsequent failing team being compared unfavourably with the heroes of France.
This side, however, have gone one better and will get the chance to avenge the defeat of 20 years ago when they face the French on Sunday at the Luzhniki Stadium.
“This has been the topic of discussion the past 20 years,” Dalic said. “Maybe that game has historical significance maybe, the dear Lord is giving us the chance to settle a score.”
That they will have that chance is due in part to their fitness, attitude and finishing quality but also to England’s failure to take full advantage of a totally dominant first half.
England, hoping for a first final appearance since winning their sole trophy in 1966, had got off to a flying start when Trippier curled a superb free kick into the top corner and they looked assured, relishing the space they were being given.