36’: Lingard Misses
A Kane lead pass and a slip by Vrsaljko springs Dele on the left, but the defender scrambles to his feet. Dele waits, waits, waits and then rolls a perfect ball to an open Lingard in the center. He, sadly, butchers it and sends it well wide. Great chance lost there and he knows it.
33’: Young Gets England Out of Trouble
Super tackle by Ashley Young on another dangerous Croatia cross. He slid in on Rebic — again — at the last second, and without fouling, to sweep away what would have been a clear shot at Pickford on the run.
A few seconds later, Rebic is flying in himself this time — colliding with Pickford on a high ball served into the top of the England penalty area. But Cakir calls a foul — they don’t like players running into goalkeepers — and England is safe.
32’: Pickford Saves
Rebic answers at the other end with a laser of a shot after some good work by Modric deep, but the ball sails right at Pickford’s chin, and he takes it down easily with both hands.
30’: KANE … No!
Not sure how either of Kane’s two shots stayed out there. A super ball from Lingard sprung him behind the offside trap (barely) and his right-footed shot was kicked away. But he controls the rebound at an even tighter angle next to the left post and pings a second attempt in. It hits a couple things, but neither is the back of the net, and spins high and — safely if you’re Croatia — out of bounds.
27’: Sterling Hits the Gas
Sterling wins a footrace with Lovren — well, not a race, since Sterling was always going to win it. But Lovren gets him back with a hand to the chest and kick to the shin, and Sterling falls like the world’s tiniest china cabinet. Free kick. It’s a good one: Subasic has to come and get it. But he punches it along and out for a throw to temporarily end the threat.
25’: Another Wasted Chance for England
Jesse Lingard gets in behind on the right but his cutback ball across the middle is terrible — missing two teammates, maybe three. Wasted chance, and a good one.
22’: Kane Offside
Now Kane strays a couple steps too far forward, and when a Croatia turnover falls to Sterling, and he feeds it back in to the big striker, he still hasn’t scrambled back onisde. Didn’t really matter in the end: Kane pulled his shot left. But he was two yards offside.
21’: Lovren Clobbers Kane
Lovren absolutely hammers Kane at midfield to stop a breakout. That was an N.F.L. safety tackle right there, but he had no choice. Kane looked about to get around him, and that would have been deadly.
20’: Sterling Working
England clearly likes the Sterling-Vida matchup down the right: it keeps trying to get him around the corner. But Vida holds firm again there.
19’: Perisic Fires and Misses
Perisic pulls up from distance on the left and lashes a shot into Pickford’s side netting. It went out off Stones’s heel, but Cakir didn’t see that and gives a goal kick — to Perisic’s obvious dismay.
17’: Fans Helping Out
Sensing their team needs a lift — it does — Croatia’s fans break into a “Cro-Ah-C-Yah” bit. But as soon as the team moves upfield, it peters out. Then so does the move.
14’: More Corner Danger
A neat give-and-go between Ashley Young and Dele Alli eventually springs the latter running across the top of the area. He feeds Trippier on the far side, and his cross is blocked out for another corner. It finds Maguire — again — and he gets a little closer but still sends it wide.
12’: Maguire Heads High
An England corner, their first. Young to take. More set piece danger. Harry Maguire gets his head on it, but sends it well high.
11’: Croatia Needs to Regroup
Croatia seems a little annoyed, and a little out of sorts, after the goal. Lovren just whacked a ball into the stands at midfield after a teammate passed it back to him at the spot with England players around. Not smart.
9’: Croatia Gets a Corner
Now it’s Croatia with a corner. Modric to take it, but there’s a bit of shoving at the spot so we pause. England clears — clumsily — and Kane nearly springs Sterling long. But his mark gets back to expertly poke it free with a reached-around toe. Risky play, done magnificently.
7’: Sterling Gives Croatia a Scare
Raheem Sterling causing trouble down the right now, twice, but Subasic is out to smother the second one to the left of his goal.
6’: Set Pieces Rule This Cup
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by another set piece goal: that’s 70 — 70!!!!!! — in this tournament. Or almost half the total.
5’: GOAL! England Leads
Kieran Trippier just stepped up and took it like a pro. Super free kick — high and right — and Subasic never had a chance. That goal is Trippier’s first for England.
4’: Free Kick for England
Dele wins a free kick in a dangerous spot at the top of the circle in front of the Croatia goal. Trippier and Ashley Young stand over it, and now Maguire comes over with his two cents. A set piece, who’d a thunk it?
2’: Referee Exerts Control
A talking-to for Lingard from the referee Cakir, right after Dele gets one. Lots of nervous energy here, and the referee wants to keep a lid on extra stuff right away.
Croatia’s manager, Zlatko Dalic, is a pacer. Gareth Southgate is in the dugout, keeping his vest tidy.
1’: Bad Start for England
An England turnover and Henderson fouls to stop what could have been a quick counter. Expect a lot of that.
That was the loudest roar yet for the kickoff countdown: and we’re off. Enjoy.
Croatia’s end unfurls a large banner that says “Thank you Russia” in Cyrillic during its national anthem. That’s how you win over the neutrals, people.
England’s Rallying Cry
Well this is odd: they’re playing the 1990s hit “Football’s Coming Home” over the loudspeakers inside the Luzhniki. Long a running joke — the song bemoans England failures — it has become the rallying cry around the team. But I wouldn’t be thrilled with the singalong if I was Croatian.
England vs. Croatia: The Odds
England is a slight favorite in this game, with the odds translating into a 60 percent chance to advance. The over/under is two goals. Harry Kane is the big favorite to score the first goal, at 4-1, followed by his teammate Raheem Sterlin at 9-1. Mario Mandzukic is Croatia’s most likely candidate at 11-1.
England vs. Croatia: The Fans
Both fan bases seem to sense the history inherent in tonight’s matchup — a first World Cup final for Croatia, a first since 1966 for England — and have turned out in force. The English are singing already, and they roared for their team. But the Croatians have numbers and full voices, too. The atmosphere, at least, will be more electric than France-Belgium was last night. It would be great if the match lived up to it.
Raheem Sterling continues to be a lightning rod whenever people talk about England, which continues to be puzzling, at least to Manager Gareth Southgate. Sterling, Southgate notes (correctly), is a vital part of what England does. His speed destabilizes opposing defenses, allowing him to attack from deeper positions than some of his teammates. He can work either side of the field, switching sides to keep teams off balance. And his ability to work in tight spaces and chase down even the most hopeful of long balls makes him dangerous at almost any moment. Yes, he has not scored for England since October 2015, a point his critics know by heart. But it’s not always what Sterling does on the scoresheet that’s most important, really; it’s the mere threat that he might do something that increases his value.
“I am not surprised that Croatia have identified Raheem as a key player,” Southgate said this week. “If you look at all of our attacking patterns and the way that our front four have combined and played, he has been instrumental in that.”
England’s Starting Lineup
The lineups are out and England doesn’t change a thing:
Goalkeeper: 1 Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Defenders: 6 Harry Maguire (Leicester), 5 John Stones (Manchester City), 12 Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), 2 Kyle Walker (Manchester City), 18 Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Midfielders: 20 Dele Alli (Tottenham), 8 Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 7 Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
Forwards: 9 Harry Kane (Tottenham), 10 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
And why would they, with everything working so well this far. That’s the same three-man back line, with Walker, Stones and Maguire, flanked by Trippier and Young, who will again be looking to get forward and help in the attack. Henderson gets the lonely duty in central midfield, and his teammates (Lingard, Dele Alli, Trippier and Young) will need to make sure he doesn’t get overrun there by Modric and Rakitic.
Croatia’s Starting Lineup
For Croatia, Marcelo Brozovic has been chosen ahead of Andrej Kramaric. Brozovic was the pick against Denmark in the round of 16, but Kramaric played in the quarterfinal against Russia. The choice of Brozovic is a defense-oriented move, as he is a deeper-lying midfielder, while Kramaric plays just behind the striker, Mario Mandzukic.
Goalkeeper: 23 Danijel Subasic (Monaco)
Defenders: 21 Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), 3 Ivan Strinic (Milan), 6 Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), 2 Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: 10 Luka Modric (Real Madrid), 7 Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), 11 Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan)
Forwards: 17 Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), 4 Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), 18 Ante Rebic (Fiorentina)
England vs. Croatia: The History
England hasn’t played Croatia since qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. England won both matches with ease, 5-1 at home and 4-1 away. England’s stars in those games like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. are no longer part of the national team setup. But one of Croatia’s two goals was scored by 22-year-old Mario Mandzukic, who at 32 scored the goal in the victory over Denmark in the round of 16.
Croatia’s Lone Premier League Representative
England’s entire team makes its living in the Premier League, and the league had players scattered throughout Tuesday’s first semifinal, too. But Croatia has only one player who earns his living in England: Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren.
Set Piece Trending
Samuel Umtiti’s goal against Belgium on Tuesday was the 69th set-piece goal of this World Cup, out of 158 over all. That’s a drastic increase from past years, and speaks to changes for technical (it’s easier to train set pieces in a short window than free-flowing attacking moves) and tactical (video-assistant referees are watching for potential fouls in the penalty area). But Croatia and England are both adept at scoring on set pieces, so one would expect the trend to continue today.
• Eight of England’s 11 goals in Russia have come off set pieces. And Harry Kane’s are probably a representative collection: three penalty kicks, two set-piece goals and a shot by someone else that hit him and went in. So it’s not exactly been Brazil circa 1970 or anything.
Harry’s Golden Boot?
England’s Harry Kane is still in line to win the Golden Boot as the World Cup’s leading scorer. Kane has six goals. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku has four headed into the third-place game, and the only active players with three are France’s Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé.
England vs. Croatia Top Story Lines
• England last played in a World Cup semifinal in 1990, when it lost on penalty kicks to West Germany, which went on to win the trophy. Croatia played its only other World Cup semifinal in 1998; it lost to France, which went on to win the trophy.
• The stakes of a World Cup semifinal — the mere idea that a team is 90 minutes from the final — can sometimes sap teams’ daring and risk-taking impulses. But so can fatigue. Croatia is coming off two straight extra-time games won on penalties, and it finished its quarterfinal on Saturday nursing several players through what looked like overuse injuries.
How Croatia recovers will go a long way to what it tries to do against England, but the fact that many experts still pick them to advance speaks to their depth of talent. And England also has played a tense extra-time game against Colombia in the last week, and while its quarterfinal against Sweden wound up being a bit more of a walk, the games and the miles add up.
• The only previous team to win two straight penalty shootouts in the knockout rounds of the World Cup was Argentina in 1990. It lost its next game, against West Germany in the final.
• The former Argentina player Jorge Valdano wrote an ode to Croatia midfielder Luka Modric for The Guardian today. Of Modric’s sublime yet simple skill-set, Valdano wrote: “We’re not talking about a gift like Diego Maradona’s, rather one that consists filling the game with common sense. He doesn’t do impossible things; when he plays a pass, you see it and think: ‘That’s what I would have done.” There’s a simply beauty to Modric’s game — effortless brilliance blended with tireless effort — that any fan can respect.
• A midfield core of Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) and Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan) behind striker Mario Mandzukic (Juventus) gives Croatia probably its best shot at a World Cup title in a generation, and for a generation.
Some Pregame Reading
• France beat Belgium to claim the first spot in the final, but you still get the sense, Rory Smith writes in The Times, that they are holding back from the best they can be.
• Have you noticed that a lot of players don’t seem to actually drink their energy drinks? That they just seem to swish a mouthful around a bit and then spit the liquid out? Jeré Longman noticed, and he went about figuring out what was going on.
• England is struggling to come to terms with its team’s once-in-a-generation run in Russia, amid an ongoing political crisis at home that has forced many to re-evaluate what it means to be English. “No one expected this,” one fan said. “We’re not used to this kind of success.”
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