England vs Croatia Match Review

The England World Cup dream ended with a devastating 2-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia in the Luzhniki Stadium last night. Running into extra time, the third on the trot for the Croatians, it was a nail-biting affair until the 109th minute, when Mario Mandzukic pushed Croatia ahead and into the World Cup final, relegating England to a third or fourth place finish. 

The First Half

When the game started, it looked England’s to lose. With yet more demonstration of the intelligent, characterful football this young squad have been playing so well at this tournament, England took the lead at just 5 minutes with an expertly curled free kick from Kieran Trippier, his first ever international goal. As upsetting as this defeat was, the performance of the Spurs man throughout the tournament is something to celebrate. He has been one of the players of the tournament for us; his relentless supporting play and drive has been a credit to his team and country and we can’t wait to see him in action again in the new season. 

Until the end of the half England kept the lead, and deserved to, with Croatia only making a few solid attempts at the goal. Harry Kane and Man UTD man Jesse Lingard both had chances they failed to capitalise on, and in a game that is sure to come to be defined by ‘what-ifs’, these missed chances are hard to stomach, but going into half time, England had the upper hand. The defence that was questioned earlier in the tournament was performing well, with the unstoppable force of Harry Maguire’s forehead and the immovable object of Jordan Pickford’s gloves in fine form. Don’t sweat the mistakes, keep attacking, stay focused, hold the lead. 

The Second Half

Initially, it looked like England were following that advice. But within 10 minutes, the wheels started to come off. Kyle Walker was booked for preventing a Croatian throw in, and 10 minutes later, they had equalised with a volley in from Perisic.

The composure, control and teamwork melted away, as it came dangerously close to doing against Colombia . But here, with 20 minutes to go until a World Cup final, it was heartbreaking. In the next few minutes, England came close to losing more goals to Perisic and Rebic, and as the grins began to appear on the faces of the Croatian strikers, they knew they could do this. England held out until the the final whistle, but then came half an hour of extra time.

Extra Time

With Rashford, Rose, and Dier all coming on to refresh the side before and after the final whistle, England were looking to pull ahead again, combating a Croatian squad who were giving no hint that they had been in this situation twice already this tournament, but nothing came of it before the break.

And then came Croatia’s second goal. Following a few squabbling passes in the box, Mandzukic found himself amongst an outclassed English defence, and knocked it past Pickford to push Croatia ahead.

With Jamie Vardy coming on to replace a beleaguered Kyle Walker, England came back into form, but it was too little too late. Trippier was carried off with an injured thigh, leaving England at 10 men with no subs left. He looked on, heartbroken at what was about to happen. Dele Alli had an opportunity to claw it back with a free kick in the death of the game, but no success was found. And with that the final whistle blew; England were out, and Croatia were through.

What can England learn from this?

As hard as it is now, what Gareth Southgate and his team have done is remarkable. For a young squad and an unproven manager, hired on the back of the last one resigning in disgrace, to make it to a World Cup semi-final after so many years on the fringes of international football is truly special. A squad this young, this hungry and this dedicated can be world beaters, and with the Euro 2020s and the next World Cup in Qatar, I’m excited to see what comes next. It’s the end at the moment, but it could yet be a beginning.

What happens next?

Saturday 14th will see England face-off against Belgium again for the third place position, and Sunday see’s France face off against Croatia to see who will lift the World Cup trophy. After that, the Spurs players who’ve represented their countries in the World Cup will take a well deserved break before returning to North London for preparation for their first Premier League match against Newcastle on the 11th August.

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