Croatia rallies past England to reach World Cup final

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   Paul Gascoigne has urged Gareth Southgate to keep it

When heartbroken English fans wake up Thursday morning after a long night of crying into their pints, the most hard part of their grief to digest following the Three Lions' 2-1 extra-time loss to Croatia in the World Cup semifinals Wednesday in Moscow will be the unshakable feeling that England had this one in the bag.

The challenge posed by Croatia is likely to be more demanding, especially as Zlatko Dalic's side features one of the best midfield pairings around, in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

That allowed Croatia to reach the semi-finals for the first time since the 1998 World Cup in France, which was their first as an independent nation.

England and Belgium clash at the Krestovsky Stadium Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Saturday, one day before the World Cup final between France and Croatia on Sunday. According to the New York Times, it wasn't an easy win for Croatia, which had some difficulty keeping up with England's "younger and faster" legs in the first half, but "went the extra mile" as it won its third straight game in extra time. Football is not coming home, after all. Harry Kane & Co. will deal with the same disappointment that felled Shearer and Platt, Gazza and Wazza, Beckham and Gerrard.

Kevin Trippier curled in a free kick for England in the fifth minute. Croatia looked a little vulnerable in the second half against Denmark and then conceded a set-piece against Russian Federation.

Mario Mandzukic of Croatia scores the winning goal against England in Moscow.

The match then went to extra-time, and Mandzukic gave his team the lead 19 minutes in, running onto a headed pass from earlier goalscorer Perisic and smashing a low drive past England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

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Croatia will be especially wary not to give Trippier too much leeway to fire in unsafe crosses from the right flank.

Mandzukic scored after Walker stuck out a leg to block Josip Pivaric's cross.

Pushing wide players Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic into more advanced roles was not the most complex move but it was one that turned the match on its head.

Mandzukic was mobbed by teammates, who jumped on him in the corner and trapped photographers under them in the crush. His positional discipline will be vital to England's hopes of stymying the playmaking brilliance of Modric, who has arguably been the player of the tournament. Dejan Lovren and Danijel Subasic are both injury doubts but are expected to recover in time to feature.

Other than Kane, England's goals this time around have come from John Stones, with a surprise brace against Panama, Jesse Lingard in the same game, Maguire, Alli and Trippier.

As the first half progressed, and with England dominant, the opportunity was there to put the game away. Midfielder Perisic was outstanding in the second half and caused England no end of problems. And they were down against England in the semifinals and advanced. "The biggest thing for me is just continuing to win - and hopefully a few more wins over the next week".

The dream ended for supporters in Moscow and at home as Gareth Southgate's men lost 2-1 to Croatia in the semi-final after extra time.

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