World Cup: Croatia edges England in tale of two second halves

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What a World Cup! The second semifinal between England and Croatia was a treat for fans everywhere. I can only imagine what being there would have been like.

Croatia slipped past England, 2-1, in a thriller to reach the nation’s first World Cup final.

England brought the house to Moscow and were as loud as ever. The entire first half you could hear the crowd constantly singing for the Three Lions only to stop and sing God Save the Queen. That energy provided fuel for the English. The best team in the World Cup using set pieces was given an opportunity right out of the gate. Kieran Trippier perfectly hit his free kick 19 yards away from goal to the side of the net. It was the 70th free kick goal ina World Cup which is sure to produce more.

After the goal, the energy in the stadium turned Moscow into London. Raheem Sterling created havoc with his speed which kept Croatia on their heels. Still, England could not muster a shot on goal the entire half which would backfire later.

In the first 30 minutes, no one questioned manager Gareth Southgate’s loose practice session yesterday which at one point featured a rubber chicken. His England side played loose and confident and almost scored a second time when Croatia failed to stop an attempt on goal that bounced dangerously wide of the goal.

At the end of the first half, Croatia had a free kick which produced contact that many thought should have warranted a penalty. At halftime, Modric pleaded for a penalty but the referee stood firm.

In the second half, Croatia came out with a lot of passion along with their frustration. The referee started to ignore English players when the fell after contact. That was just what Croatia needed.

In the 68th minute, Sime Vrsaljko crossed the ball into the penalty area, finding Leon Perisic’s foot just inches over Kyle Walker’s head. England’s captain Harry Kane thought that it was a dangerous play and the goal should have been disallowed but the result stood.

The England fans went silent and Croatia’s fans created an atmosphere that disjointed the England team. Croatia smelled blood and kept attacking.

In the 71st minute, Persic hit the post. England keeper Jordan Pickford had to deal with waves of attacks but his team had a chance to stop the momentum in the 77th minute when Jesse Lingard took a free kick but he sailed it wide. Marcus Rashford had another chance on free kick into the box in the 91st minute but Kane headed the ball down and did not hit the target.

Southgate with end of stoppage took the time to calm his troops down, and England came out poised backed by their rejuvenated supporters.

The first half of overtime looked to be England’s while it seemed Croatia went in looking to conserve energy. After all, this was their third overtime game in a row and their legs had to be heavy. England went to work.

In the 95th minute, a moment came which caught everyone except Croatia off guard. Modric was standing nine instead of 10 yards away from the ball and some of the English players protested; while pleading, a surprise shot came but it went high.

A few minutes later, John Stones won a header but it was cleared off the inside post to keep the match level. Croatia did get one chance when Pickford made his fourth save after a thru ball to Mario Mandzukic right in front of goal.

The second overtime period started England’s nightmare. Tripier went out with a groin injury after England had used all of their available subs. In the 109th minute, Persic headed a ball forward into the box behind two defenders and found Mandzukic waiting to bury a side net shot.

Short-handed England tried to muster energy with 11 minutes left but the momentum and crowd noise was on the side of Croatia.

Croatia 2, England 1

In 116th minute, Rashford put a free kick into the box but the referee did not award the penalty when Harry Maguire. In the very last minute, England’s final free kick was cleared to safety before the final whistle made Croatia’s dreams come true.

The third place game, a rematch between group stage foes Belgium and England, comes Saturday but the final will be Sunday morning. I can’t wait to see how Croatia will try to stop the team speed of France.

My pick, Belgium, couldn’t overcome Les Bleus and it is hard to imagine how tired underdog Croatia must be. No one had ever won three overtime games in a row at a World Cup before though. We shall see.

God Bless All of You.

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Alan DeRitter

Alan DeRitter

Soccer Analyst/Coach

2013 – Present…Head Soccer Coach, De La Salle High School 2007 – 2011…Head Soccer Coach, Archbishop Shaw High School 2004 – Present…Director of Coaching for Soccer Innovations of America 2006…Asst. Head Coach, St. Martin’s Girls Team 2006…ODP Louisiana Staff Coach 1986-2005…Brother Martin High School; Head coach 1986; 1994 -2004 State Champions 2000 2000 District 10 Div. I Coach of the…

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