The homecoming cancelled as Croatia beat England 2-1 in extra time

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    England were ahead before Luka Modrić touched the ball.

    In fact, it was from a foul Modrić committed, chasing back and scything down Dele Alli outside the Croatian penalty area, that England took the lead.

    Kieran Trippier, one of England’s least known names and one of their best performers, curled a free kick over the wall and into the top corner, before being smothered by a heap of his teammates in a joyous sideline stacks-on. 

    It was the perfect start, a scarcely believable continuation of England’s fine run of form, a new verse perhaps being written for that earworm song we’ve all been hearing rattling around Twitter these last two weeks. 

    With the barmy army pumping out pounding drum-and-horn ditties, England threatened with two corners, both of which ended with Harry Maquire applying his vast, hulking forehead violently to pleather.

    Raheem Sterling was haring around, sniffing out long balls, Alli and Jesse Lingard’s touch was soft and neat, and the back three were looking assured; the opening 15 minutes provided no compelling evidence Croatia were the better, more accomplished, more likely team, though there was a whiff of that whenever Modrić or Ivan Rakitić rolled their studs over the ball. That whiff would eventually intensify into a rich aroma.

    This was not, it is fair to say, the high-spec encounter of the last semi-final; Dejan Lovren’s two agricultural fouls on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling punctuated the opening half an hour, with slightly overhit passes and wild attempts to retrieve them the other central theme. 

    (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

    Harry Kane fluffed a routine finish; no matter, he was clearly offside.

    Then he missed another golden chance; the flag was raised again, though the Spurs striker was clearly level this time.

    Two worrying examples that indicated his sniper sights, usually so unerring, weren’t quite adjusted yet. Pickford, whose distribution was – with one exception – startlingly accurate in the first half, was then required to absorb a stinging Ante Rebić shot. 

    A lovely move with Kane, Alli, and Lingard ended with the latter slapping an open shot wide, a poor miss.

    England were repeatedly spearing lofted passes up their right touchline, for Sterling or Lingard, and Domagoj Vida was rather exposed and unassisted by left-back Ivan Strinić, or indeed winger Ivan Perišić during these moments.

    As the England speedsters raced onto these balls, the half was racing by, and England had had by far the better of it; a lot of their open play was foiled by a twitchy, jerking inability to weight a final pass, but their energy and positiveness was far more encouraging than the general sluggish malaise blanketing Croatia’s play. Half time arrived, with England on top of both the game and the score.

    With 45 minutes separating England from their second World Cup final, and first since 1966, Croatia emerged from the break knowing they had to play with a lot more vigour and invention then they had in the first half. A booking for Mario Mandžukić, and a few wayward early passes poured cold water on these intentions. Maguire was then seen effortlessly and cleanly dispossessing Modrić, two players with about ten weight classes between them.

    Half and quarter chances appeared at both ends; Rakitić skied a shot, Kane saw a stooping header cleared off his forehead. The tension was bubbling up, as the hour mark rolled past. Trippier, even outside of his goal, was blossoming on the right hand side, a really quite remarkable player whose athletic prowess is matched only by his ability to swerve in venomous crosses. 

    Croatia’s momentum was rising and falling, built up by fine approach play from Modrić or Rakitić, and then stifled by a poor cross from their more advanced colleagues. But the rhythm was there, all it needed was a moment of clarity.

    Ivan Perišić provided that moment, connecting with a swooping Šime Vrsaljko cross, prodding the ball past Pickford with his studs raised, nipping in before Kyle Walker’s header could clear. It was, really, the first instance of a Croatian attacker showing some thirst in the final third, and it came to greet one of the few promising crosses to be hit by a Croatian full back.

    Croatia was frothing now, and Perišić hit the post, nearly punishing a very tremulous mix up between John Stones and Pickford. Rebić could not convert the rebound. There was the very real, present sense England could collapse and concede a rapidfire double.

    Marcus Rashford was brought on for Sterling. Modrić was controlling things now, and making dangerous runs into the box. Lingard had a fine chance to retake the lead, but screwed his shot across the face. The tempo had quickened to a breathless pulse now. Jordan Henderson looped a volley high and wide. 

    Ten minutes remained in normal time now, and the scored were locked, ready for either team to turn a shoulder, take a deep breath, and crash their way through into the final.

    Croatia were sensing England could be put away here, and so were committing men forward, which was opening up space for England on the break. In non-counter play though, England were now finding it very hard to work their way out of their own half without punting the ball long; there was no English Modrić to becalm the situation and conduct the play under pressure.

    Mandžukić and Perišić had chances to snatch the lead, but snatched at their chances.

    Every misplaced Croatian pass was an agony, such was the opportunity for them to land a knockout punch with their opponents on the ropes.

    England invited Croatia all the way up to the edge of their box, and were given a reprieve after a lengthy passing sequence when Dejan Lovren, showing his ever-impressive decision making, chose to smash the ball 15 metres high and wide from 30 metres out.

    England then won a free kick.

    Could they grab this game, now in added time? Kane could not connect properly with the header, and the ball was glanced out for a goal kick. Extra time it was, then. The Croatian players, some limping and heaving, walked over to congregate. The Englishmen, almost as wearily, did the same.

    Danny Rose came on for England, replacing a completely exhausted Ashley Young. Extra time began, and England took control of the early stages, with Rashford a bright spot down the right hand side. Ivan Strinić went down, a tweaked groin; not to worry, Croatia still had all their subs remaining, and so Josip Pivarić came on. 

    Rebić hacked down Rose, was booked, and England had another set piece. It came to nothing. Jordan Henderson, having matched up as ably as could be expected with Modrić , trotted off and Eric Dier came on. The new sub won a corner within 15 seconds; Croatia hadn’t really entered this extra time period yet.

    Stones had a header cleared off the line from the corner, so nearly another set piece goal for the Three Lions. Rebić was replaced by Andrej Kramarić. Modrić was seen literally prodding the ball to an opponent standing right in front of him – the match had reached a very bedraggled stage. 

    Croatia had a fine surge right at the end of the first period, and Mandžukić saw Pickford knee away a chance taken right in front of goal. Pickford spat some choice words down at the Croatian striker, who was lying prone after the skirmish. Half time, of extra time, was blown.

    Croatia began the second period with a corner. It was an excellent short corner, but the shot it forged was poor. Would Croatia dominate the second half of extra time like they had the second haf of normal time?

    An English clearance was skied into the air. Perišić leapt for a header. The ball spun back in between back line and goalkeeper, and Mandžukić was the first to react. He curled the ball past Pickford, and it certainly looked like a winning goal. England had switched off, for a half second, and the lapse was brutally punished. 12 minutes remained. Jamie Vardy was brought on.

    Mandžukić went down twice with cramp, and was subbed. Trippier was grimacing in pain too, as Croatia prepared for a corner. He was helped off the pitch, and England were out of subs.

    Time ticked away, and English breath was held. A free kick was won by Alli, with seconds to go. Pickford didn’t go up. Could this be a miracle in the making?

    No. Croatia cleared. The whistle went. The fabled homecoming was cancelled. The team representing a country of 4 million will meet France in the final. England will play for third.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (183)

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:09am
      Kangas said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      Memorable second half and extra time from Croatia. A fantastic football nation of only 4 million people.
      England are still limited team but had an awesome tournament .
      I hope the final is just as good, and Croatia win .

      Finally a tribute to Gareth Southgate who has united England as one nation more then any politician could do .

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:13am
      Kangas said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      Too much long ball from England, has paid off for most of the tournament .. but they didn’t have a plan B
      England probably should be 2-0 up at halftime

      but Croatia were fabulous in the second half at keeping possession , and 2 well taken goals . The best team won , I would love to see Croatia upset France in the final.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 12th 2018 @ 1:47pm
        parkhacker said | July 12th 2018 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

        What a great effort from Croatia a country of small population they fought to the end and never gave up.They can now have a rest and get ready for final against France.This should be a great game even with France as favourites Croatia do real well and win causing upset result say 2 to 1..

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:20am
      Buddy said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      Fully deserved win as Croatia stuck to their guns, kept attacking and found a way through and Perisic and Mandzukic were outstanding. Watching on SBS I thought that Martin Tyler’s commentary was appallingly inaccurate. Not his descriptions of the game but all the cliches and platitudes in the second half and extra time. It simply did not fit what we were watching. He carried on and on about tired legs and the toll of two penalty shoot outs and only once did I hear any suggestion that the Croatian players looked more lively. There was only one team that appeared to have a plan of attack in the second half and then extra time. Once the equalizer went in, England began to fall apart and could easily have comceded again. The talk of the younger fitter team was nonsense in practice. Fine theory perhaps but the game did not play out like that at all and the bolder more decisive team won the day.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 8:14am
        chris said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Buddy have to agree with your comments about Martin Tyler. To me he sounds tired and disinterested. I switched over to Optus sports so i could watch on my way to work and the commentator was lively and added something to the game.

        • July 12th 2018 @ 9:20am
          Mahler said | July 12th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

          I call Martin Tyler The Drone,,,because that’s what he does – drones on and on like a Horse Whisperer, his calls lacking any sense of the excitement and tension of the game. Time to retire.

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:27am
      peeko said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      i was happy to see Croatia win mainly because i find the reporting of England nauseating. We are made to believe that the game means more to England than it does to other nations.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 12th 2018 @ 8:06am
        josh said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        The only nation who could claim it’s coming home would Brazil wouldn’t it? After winning 3 they got to keep a permanent trophy?

        • July 12th 2018 @ 11:52am
          paul said | July 12th 2018 @ 11:52am | ! Report

          The original trophy was stolen from the CBF HQ, they were permitted by FIFA to produce a replica.

        • July 13th 2018 @ 7:18am
          Iromonger said | July 13th 2018 @ 7:18am | ! Report

          …or Uruguay, the host of the first World Cup. The whole “it’s coming home” campaign showed a very introspective nation for what it is, they did vote for Brexit after all. Or maybe this ultra-nationalistic parochialism is what happens to us all when you spend billions of dollars and hundreds of years marketing to the people that the geopolitical boundaries that you live within define you as a person, and then create a team that represents your country (and ergo you and your personal identity) and stick them in a competition with other countries equally committed to a positive national identity.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 8:22am
        Pedro the Maroon said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        Dare I say “they’re going home”

      • July 12th 2018 @ 8:42am
        sham said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        The song it’s coming home is like a boyhood dream. England invented the game but have had a poor record at major events. They are allowed to dream.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 12th 2018 @ 10:54am
          josh said | July 12th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

          invented may be a stretch; codified the laws of the game is more accurate.

        • July 13th 2018 @ 7:32am
          MQ said | July 13th 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

          Good point sham, England is the mother of all the footballs of the world.

          But if we are looking for the great-grandmother, then one need look no further than the ancient indigenous game of Wogaballiri, which we used as the central plank of our bid to host the 2022 world cup.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2018 @ 12:17pm
        NUFCMVFC said | July 12th 2018 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

        Would say it’s more of a case of having transformed the vibe

        Croatia are in their Golden Generation though so nice story there too

        Football Coming Home was a Euro ’96 song when England where hosting the Euros. People everywhere have probably kicked some rolling object around for thousands of years but theGame/Sport that we all know and love codified there but I think it was the French? creating FIFA that helped it go global in the way it did rather than just be a Commonwealth sport ala Cricket and the Rugbies.

        Which probably works out well

        An excellent World Cup in Russia it has to be said. Let’s hope the Final lives up to the rep. I rekcon France will win though

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:30am
      Monday QB said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      Good game and a great win for Croatia. They played some fantastic football in the second half. Watching the game over (if they ever do!), I think England will rue not pushing on with it after the early goal. I think England only had 1 or 2 shots on goal for the game and really weren’t able to create anything in front of goal.

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:32am
      punter said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      Watch game in Croatia, with Croatian commentators, which i do not understand. Croatia easily better team, currently Croatia going off.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 7:35am
        Max Danger said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:35am | ! Report

        exactly, but we wont see it all reported. only England had a dream to win their Cup. it was England dream that was ruined not Croatians gain.

        • July 12th 2018 @ 7:47am
          Kangas said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

          Fantastic punter

          Better team after half time and deserved to win .
          I’ve been watching the scenes on abc Facebook, great song they have got .

          Max danger

          I don’t think any English fan should not celebrate how far they come this tournament .

        • July 12th 2018 @ 10:15am
          Lionheart said | July 12th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          ABC TV had an extensive coverage of Croatia fans this morning. Not sure what you’re on about.

          • July 13th 2018 @ 7:31am
            Max Danger said | July 13th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

            thats because they won.

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