Changing manager months before the big event, sending your backup striker home after he refused to come on and sacking your assistant manager for insensitive comments - controversies have not been far from the Croatian camp. But the work on the field never seemed to get bothered by the storm off it. Consecutive extra time victories! That itself speak volumes of the sheer grit and commitment that these group of players have shown under the astute management of Zlatko Dalic.
The midfield has been sensational throughout the competition and it was the forward pair of Mandzukic and Perisic that rose to the fore against England. Modric revealed that English pundits' lack of respect for the Croatian side spurred them on. Many believed that the Vatreni will run out of fuel against the Three Lions. Modric and co made a mockery of a number of pre-match assessments by running circles around England in the second half. Croatia will now face France in the ultimate showdown on Sunday. These set of players have well and truly scripted history by eclipsing the country's 1998 World Cup superstars by going one level ahead.
The Inter Milan winger was largely ineffective this tournament and was simply in the starting eleven due to lack of better options in the squad.Against England, Perisic started the game poorly and had an average first half. He often gave away the ball cheaply and was not offering much on the flanks. All that changed when Sime Vrsaljko delivered a cross into the box
and Perisic beat Walker to volley home the equalizer. The goal worked as a tonic for the winger who then looked almost unstoppable. Soon after, Perisic beat his man and hit the post with a stunning far post drive. In extra time, Perisic then headed a hopeful ball into the box only to see Mandzukic putting one past Pickford to score the winning goal. The winger played a huge role yesterday in taking Croatia to their first ever World Cup final.
A lot was expected of Harry Kane in this semifinal. England needed their talisman to fire on all cylinders to have a chance of fending off the Croatian challenge. But the reality is that Kane has not looked the same since picking up that knock against Colombia. He was poor against Sweden and was poor against Croatia too. Kane often dropped deep to free up space and let Sterling run in the channels.
Dejan Lovren was following him like a hawk and restricted his link-up play. The Spurs man had two glorious chances to get on the score sheet and guide England home but fluffed both of his attempts. He shot his one on one effort straight at the keeper and later wasted a decent header chance. The captain looked a shadow of himself and never seemed like a threat. Kane may win the Golden Boot in the next few days but that will not take away the fact that his last two performances have been total stinkers.
Be it nerves or an early setback, Croatia never really got going in the first half. Zlatko Dalic needed to change something to bring Croatia to the party and engineer a comeback. The manager did not introduce radical changes but made some fine tweaks that exposed England's limitations. The duo of Perisic and Rebic were moved further forward to pin England's full-backs back.
This led the England midfield to get stretched and Croatia's famed midfield to cut passing lines and attack with intent in the final third. Shifting Luka Modric to the inside right channel was also an inspired move. England's midfield could not handle their counterparts in the second half and coupled with two moments of negligence, Croatia punished them with two stinging goals. England badly missed a ball carrier to link their midfield with the attack, this was perfectly utilised and exposed by the Croatians.
These Croatians can run and run and run and... Man, they've played 90 minutes more than any other team. So effectively, they have played an extra football game altogether and yet look hungry for more.Hear this, Croatia did not make a single substitution until extra-time despite playing 120 minutes each against Denmark and Russia. Zlatko Dalic used his substitutions cleverly and with players like Luka Modric who would rather barf his heart out onto the field than have his opponents run over it,
Croatia were better prepared for the final half an hour than their opponents.Though England also had the opportunity to make 3 subs late into the game, only one- Jamie Vardy's introduction- was a truly positive change and that came after England were already chasing the game, deep into the second half of extra time.Pivaric who was brought on for Strinic played a good hand in keeping the ball away from the Englishmen. In truth, once the game went beyond normal time, England were playing in Croatia's yard and the Croats showed enough quality- thanks to their experience there or not- and came out on top.
Credit where it's due, Stones, Walker and Maguire have been formidable at the back. However, England were forced to have the rare experience of having to deal with relentless attacking. Colombia did take the game to England and at times, the backline did look shaky.When the Croats upped the ante in the second half, England started to look panicky at the back. Suddenly,
Harry Maguire was hurrying his clearances, Walker's backpasses were underweighted and Stones was having issues communicating with Pickford.Though the two goals that went in should be credited to Croatia's ability rather than England's lack of it, the defenders will know that they would have had it easier against the Croats if they'd remained calm and sure-footed during the tough latter half of the game.Perisic reacted ahead of Trippier and Walker for the first and Mandzukic did it for the second. The defenders would definitely not want to watch those goals again.
England were, once again, fluid in attack from the get-go. Lingard's movement was causing panic at the back for Croatia and Raheem Sterling's bursts of pace were proving to be too hot to handle. And England kept creating chances after Kieran Tripper put them ahead.Harry Kane was neatly set up inside the box by Jesse Lingard but the striker failed to bury the ball inside the post in 2 attempts- the second, an almost open goal miss albeit from an acute angle.
It was Jesse Lingard's turn next. England benefitted from Dele Alli's excellent hold-up play which caused 3 Croatian defenders to be dragged towards him, thereby opening up space for Lingard at the edge of the area.Alli squared the ball to Lingard and from that distance, you'd think it's bread and butter for the Manchester United star, but he snatched at it and sent the ball to the advertisement hoardings instead.Had England taken these chances, they'd have kicked Croatia out of the game and put things beyond doubt. However, they didn't and it came to bite them in the back.
Fernando Torres, who had stated yesterday that he would make an announcement regarding his future today, has informed that he will be joining Japanese side Sagan Tosu.
The 34 year old will join the J League after making 347 appearances for Atletico and scoring 120 goals during two spells. The former Liverpool and Chelsea striker has signed a contract till 2020.
According to sources at Sky Sports, Cristiano Ronaldo is close to wrapping up a move to Serie A champions Juventus. Significant developments are set to take place in the
next 48 hours, as a bid of 88 million pounds could prove to be fruitful. Ronaldo had talked about a potential exit after winning the Champions League final, and could leave after 9 years in Madrid.
Defensive duo Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren will try to keep England captain Harry Kane quiet, says Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. Kane is two goals clear in the race for the
Golden Boot. Having seen Croatia hold off Argentina superstar Lionel Messi and Denmark talisman Eriksen, conceding once in those two games, Dalic is optimistic they can do the same against Kane.