World Cup: Superior Stamina and Skills Power Croatia's Comeback In 2-1 Defeat of England

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Mandzukic beats Pickford for the winning goal. Photo: Twitter.

Croatia was the superior team in the second half and overtime in its World Cup match with England today, winning 2-1 and earning the ticket to play France in the final on Sunday.

Yet in the early going, including most of the first half, it was all England, who took an early 1-0 on a beautifully executed set play, a free kick by Kevin Trippier from right on top of the penalty box. It was a foolish foul that gave England an early advantage.

By the time the Croatian goalie saw the ball after it sailed over the defensive wall, it was too late to react. The ball, still spinning and curling, crashed into the left hand corner of the net. Only five minutes had passed and Croasa was already down a goal.

England moved the ball very well in the first half. The finishing was poor. Had England taken better shots at goal when opportunities were created after brilliant passing from midfield, or following quick dashes by Raheem Sterling up the right wing, they could have easily led 3-0 by halftime.

The squandered opportunities by England meant Croatia was still in the game by halftime. England paid the price for the missed chances.

The Croatians woke up in the second half. They played as if they had just kicked off the game. As if another team had come out of the locker room.

Soccer fans were entertained to quick, short, accurate, passing; bolstered by longer passes onto the paths of forwards sprinting toward the penalty box. These plays were so mesmerizing that at times it seemed even the English players were reduced to watching, or chasing after the ball.

It was clear England's one goal wouldn't be enough. It was a matter of time before Croatia's hard work paid off. The reward finally came, in the form of a long cross from the right side in the 68th minute. Croatia's Ivan Perisic stabbed the ball with his left foot past the English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The Croatians created several more scoring opportunities. There were many misses by the Croatians, but also great saves by Pickford. At the end of regulation the game was tied 1-1.

In overtime the Croatians continued to dominate as they had in the second half. Then there was a careless attempt to clear the ball by the English defense. A Croatian player, with his back facing the English goal, headed the ball back. A Croatian player trapped it and quickly flipped it to Mario Mandzukic who tapped it ahead of him, then, unleashed a thunderous shot past Pickford.

Now Croatia was up 2-1.

England spent the rest of overtime desperately trying to push the ball back up to tie the game. This opened up counterattack opportunities and Croatia could have added two more goals. The English players seemed more exhausted than the Croatians.

Then came the final whistle. Heartbreak for England, and joy for Croatia. It's heading to its first ever World Cup Final.

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