The second semi-final match between Croatia and England last night was an absolute thriller of a game which did not let us move an inch from our seats throughout the 90 minutes and the extra time.
Right from the start of the match, there was high intensity, physicality which you would expect in a World Cup semi-final match, as both the teams wanted to make their intentions very clear right from the start. And an early goal by England just meant the entertainment would be doubled.
Kieran Trippier’s curling free-kick in the 5th minute of the game reminded us of England legend David Beckham and the early goal gave them a boost in confidence, which they showed by keeping the ball well and using the pace of Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and K. Walker down the right flank.
Croatia, on the other hand had their first real chance in the last few minutes of the first half when Sime Vrsaljko shot. The shot was too high and did not really trouble England goalkeeper Pickford. Croatians did not look their best in the first half, losing possession easily in the attacking third and gave too much space to England in the defensive third.
In the second half Croatia looked like a different team, they looked more organised and started to dominate the midfield using the skills and experience of players like Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric.
Croatia finally got their opening in the 68th minute when Perisic’s relentless work in the left flank paid dividends. He managed to get in front of Walker and guided the cross from Vrsaljko’s cross to the back of the net.
England paid the price of being too defensive after scoring the goal and seemed like they were happy with the 1 goal and wanted to defend that instead of attacking more. This, in my opinion, has worked to their advantage throughout the tournament, but perhaps this showed the lack of experience of the young and dynamic England squad.
It seemed like that goal from Croatia injected a different level of confidence as they dominated the play and created numerous chances in the second half, but could not manage to beat Pickford, who has had a great form throughout the final. He helped England keep the score 1-1 at the end of the regulation time of 90 minutes.
The goal line save of John Stones header by Vrsaljko and Pickford’s another brilliant save to deny Perisic’s second meant that this game would have a nail-biting finish in the second half of the added extra time.
Mandzukic showed his true number 9 instincts and his experience as he was the first to react to a simple header behind the England defense and fire the ball past Pickford.
This game deserved a winner in the playing time, getting the result in penalties would have been very unfair and brutal for either of the teams, which would have been on the losing end.
England put in a great effort and should not have any regrets as they suprised everyone with their game, right from the first match of their World Cup campaign, which also made them title contenders.
But at the end, Croatia deserved to be in the finals.
Luka Modric for me was the man of the match for his work rate.
(Aditi Chauhan, Player, Indian National Women’s Football Team)