One team had yet to compete in a World Cup final, the other had last won it all way back in 1966, and hadn’t made it to the semifinals in close to three decades. But with the second World Cup 2018 semifinal now in the books, Croatia will be playing in its first World Cup final on Sunday against France, after defeating England, 2-1, in extra time on Wednesday evening.
As recapped by the New York Times, forward Mario Mandzukic eluded England’s defense to score the game-winning goal in the 109th minute off an assist from Ivan Perisic, who also happened to score the equalizer in the 68th minute. These goals came well after England got off to a hot start, as a free kick in the fifth minute from Kieran Trippier gave his team a quick 1-0 lead.
The New York Times opined that Trippier’s early goal in Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal was the “perfect start” for England, allaying fans’ concerns and giving them a sense of hope that the team could make it to its first World Cup final since its 1966 tournament victory. Despite England’s eventual defeat, the Times added that there’s still a good chance the team could take solace in team captain Harry Kane winning this year’s Golden Boot award as the World Cup’s top scorer. The publication also cited goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who may have allowed two goals to Croatia, but had again stood out for his “magnificent” play against a veteran side.
Meanwhile, Croatia made the most out of its first World Cup semifinal since 1998 and will be facing France in Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow, with England heading to St. Petersburg to battle it out with Belgium in the third-place game. 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.
Commenting on England’s heartbreaking loss, former England national team winger Chris Waddle expressed disappointment in the team going out in the semifinal, but added that there is a lot to feel proud of, and that it’s important that England moves forward and doesn’t have to wait so long again before making it so far in the World Cup.
“I just hope we kick on now because we didn’t after 1990,” Waddle said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I hope we grow on it and we have to ensure it doesn’t take 28 years to get to a semi-final again. We have to spend and invest in grassroots football and it will come.”
As noted in CBS Sports‘ recap of Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal, Croatia is also notable for becoming the second least populous country to make it to a World Cup final, right behind Uruguay, which won the 1930 and 1950 editions of the tournament and made it to the quarterfinals this year. Croatia, however, still appears to be the underdog in its upcoming game against France, per Bleacher Report, on account of the team having narrowly escaped with a win in three straight extra-time matches, and because France has had a dominant World Cup run thus far, having trailed just once in the tournament.