FIFA 2018 World Cup: 5 takeaways from Croatia vs England, 2-1
FIFA 2018 World Cup: 5 takeaways from Croatia vs England, 2-1 (a.e.t)
Croatia are into their first ever World Cup final as they beat England 2-1 in the second semi-final to set up a mouth-watering decider against France (19/2 favourites to win the World Cup) in Sunday’s Moscow showdown.
Kevin Trippier put the Three Lions ahead within 6 minutes with a brilliantly executed free-kick, but Croatia responded strongly after the break. Ivan Perisic equalised for the Vatreni after England were caught out at the back, before Mario Mandzukic punished them for another lapse deep in extra-time.
England’s much-vaunted campaign came to a juddering halt, but Croatia (33/1 outsiders to win the World Cup) add more wind to their sails as they’ll now play the biggest game in the country’s football history and for the ultimate prize against all the odds.
The major takeaways:
#1 England truly are the set-piece kings of this tournament
If there ever was (or would’ve been) an award for the ‘best set-piece takers of the tournament’, England would’ve nicked it this time, hands down. The Three Lions were supposed to play an all-out, vibrant brand of attacking football given the attacking riches in the team. But whilst that happened only in bits and parts, they truly shone during set-piece situations. Heck, England made it their ace in the deck.
Having already scored 9 of their previous 11 goals from set-pieces – penalties, corners, free-kicks – there was another one added to the list in this game by Kevin Trippier. England won a corner in a favourable position after Modric tripped Dele Alli down near the box. The Tottenham Hotspur defender when stepped up to take the kick and beautifully placed one into the far post beyond the reach of Subasic.
England were ahead inside 6 minutes of the game and more importantly, demonstrated another clinical move from a set-piece.
#2 England miss numerous chances to extend lead
Once England were ahead, the momentum was understandably in their favour. It was nothing new for Croatia – they had fallen back in each of the previous two games as well – but this time they could really feel the heat as England pressed high and carved numerous. But alas, each of them just went painfully begging.
The closest to come of all was none other than Harry Kane, who’s initial effort was although blocked by Subasic, slammed his follow-up right against post while the easiest thing in the world was to bury it. England should’ve been 2-0 up there, but had only themselves to blame for heading into the break with a goal’s advantage.
Chances were at a premium in the second-half as Croatia now held the dominion, but John Stones almost bagged the lead again in injury time when he headed a corner goalwards only to deflected away by a vigilant Vrsaljko, who was at the right place at the right time.
In all, England attempted 11 shots but 6 of them were off target and only one could find the back of the net. Their attacking game from the open play hasn’t really been up to the mark throughout the campaign, and today it just came back to bite England.
#3 Croatia wear England down with attrition
Even though England looked the brighter side in the match and also held the advantage, it was Croatia who came back stronger from the break. They were the ones now dominating the ball and creating chances. Manager Dalic had replaced Kramaric from the earlier game with Brozovic in the midfield and the change began to show its colours.
The midfield troika of Modric, Rakitic and Brozovic could get near the final third soon when in attack and that pinned England back in their own half for the better part of second stanza. Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic posed great threat upfront as they came close on numerous occasions, only to be denied by the brilliance of Jordan Pickford. However, Croatia’s relentless press certainly wore England down who creaked at the back and ran out of steam towards the end of normal time. Croatia then used this to their advantage to continue dominating in the injury time and it was only a matter of time before the winner would come as it eventually did.
#4 Croatia punish England for defensive lapse
For all of Pickford’s efforts, England were eventually undone by two moments of lapse in concentration at the back. Sime Vrsaljko crossed inside the area for Perisic to tap it home for the equaliser. Kyle Walker didn’t read his movement properly and instead threw himself in an attempt to head it away while just sticking his foot out to intercept would’ve prevented the goal.
However, England’s reaction in the build-up to the second one was worse. Perisic headed the ball backwards and into the box as Mandzukic stole clear of his markers to tap home from near point blank range. Walker was a step or two ahead when the ball was played while Stones took a second longer to react with the Juventus forward lurking right behind him.
There’s was no way Pickford was going to stop any of those, and his efforts were ultimately undone as England were caught out at the back and it proved extremely costly.
#5 It’s not coming home, but England show progress
For all the limitless chivvying about football coming home, England’s World Cup hopes were dashed by a spirited Croatia. It’s definitely a crushing blow giving how close they’d come since 1990. But behind all the melancholia that’s now cast over the team, the fans and the country, there’s optimism. Manager Gareth Southgate took over a bunch of chums and peeled them off the canvas. This Three Lions side had an air of youthful exuberance around it and it certainly showed in their stoic yet attractive brand of football.
Nobody gave them a chance at the start; England weren’t expected to make it even beyond the quarter-finals given the chequered history. But they beat all the odds to reach where they have. A first semi-final appearance at the World Cups in 28 years, and a better finish than even the likes of Brazil, Germany and Argentina.
Despite the heartbreak, England can look forward to a bright future under Southgate. This is a very talented side that can only go on to improve hereafter. There’s still plenty left in the tank and can certainly pull up trees in near future if built upon this mini success.