A night of high drama has come to an end. England are out, Croatia will face France in Sunday’s World Cup final. Thanks for joining us tonight, here’s Barney Ronay to see you out …
… Dominic Fifield to make you a cup of cocoa …
Meanwhile, in Zagreb …
Read the latest reaction from Martha Kelner:
… and the latest quotes from both Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane.
England woe …
… Croatian joy.
Ivan Perisic: 8/10
Harry Kane: 6/10
More from Stuart James, right here.
As the dust begins to settle, Luka Modric has his say. Ouch.
Despite England’s exit, Sunday’s final is all set to be a cracker. Here’s David Hytner’s lowdown on what is means for Paul Pogba and France.
And with that, it’s time my time on this MBM comes to a close. It’s been emotional. For a while back there, England looked in complete control, and a first World Cup final since 1966 seemed their destiny, theirs for the taking. But experienced opponents ground them down, and in the end Croatia were deserved victors. England will pick themselves up again after a heroic campaign that totally outstripped expectation; they’ll play Belgium in the third-place play-off on Saturday. Croatia meanwhile wearily move on to a meeting in the final with France. Can they become the smallest country to win the World Cup since Uruguay in 1950? It’s going to be fun finding out on Sunday.
Stay tuned on this liveblog for more reaction from Barney Ronay, Martha Kelner and Dominic Fifield, plus player ratings from Stuart James, and the latest quotes from Gareth Southgate and the players. Thanks for reading, wherever you are in the world: nighty night and sweet dreams!
Despite the disappointing scoreline, there will be plenty of England fans who wouldn’t have missed the game for the world. Here’s the story of their last-minute race to Russia.
So on Saturday afternoon, England now face Belgium in the one match no footballer wants to play in: the third-place play-off at the World Cup. There’s plenty to play for: should England win, it’ll be their second-best finish at international football’s premier tournament: they were beaten by Italy in 1990 and ended up fourth.
Also, there’s the small matter of the Golden Boot. It won’t be uppermost in his mind right now, but the captain wants that shiny shoe! He’s on six goals, two ahead of Romelu Lukaku. If the Belgian doesn’t notch at least a couple, Kane will almost certainly have the Boot to himself … unless Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann become only the second player in history to score a World Cup final hat-trick, after Geoff Hurst.
It’s not what any England fan wanted at the start of the day … but it’s something. It’ll feel better come Saturday, promise.
The mightily impressive Jordan Pickford talks. “It was an experience. Maybe we went ahead to early. But we needed that next goal to kill off the tie. We had some good chances, but didn’t put them away. They have some top-quality players, which showed in the second half. Maybe it was a high kick on Kyle Walker for their first goal? But you can’t look back, we showed pride and passion. The fans were great. As a nation we’ve come far, and hopefully it’s the start of a good future.”
Daniel Taylor’s verdict is in!
It was like watching a beautiful painting being ripped up in front of your eyes. England’s dream of making it to their first World Cup final for more than a quarter of a century was over and in those desolate moments after the final whistle, as the losing players wandered aimlessly around the pitch, almost zombie-like in their trance, it was impossible not to wonder whether there will be a lifetime of regret.
A solemn but proud Gareth Southgate speaks! “In the first half we were really good, and could have had another. We had chances. There was a spell in the second half when they got the goal and their tails were up, we had to weather the storm. Possibly at that moment, we were hanging on a bit. Great credit, in extra time we got back into the game and showed some more composure. The biggest thing is our supporters at the end, and their reaction. That tells you what the players have given, not just tonight but over the period. I can’t ask any more. Knockout football is fine margins. When you have spells, you have to make them count; we probably needed that second goal. We’ve come an incredible long way in a short space of time. We are probably beyond where we thought we might be able to go. So tonight we weren’t quite there, but the team will be stronger for that.”
The England fans are still in the Luzhniki. They’re in buoyant mood, despite their disappointment, and are currently belting out a fine karaoke rendition of Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. Will that chase Three Lions up the charts this weekend too? It’ll be 1996 on feedback loop. This has to stop if there’s a Kula Shaker revival, though.
Post-match chat: “We dared to dream,” begins Kyle Green. “Maybe we can dream again in the future. It doesn’t hurt any less though. This is my tenth tournament with England. I’m very proud still but it’s going to be a rough rest of the night.”
“For being in the supposed easy half of the draw, Croatia had to work their unmentionables off to get to the final,” writes Kári Tulinius. “Three very intense games, all going to extra time. France will be happy to face exhausted opponents, but Croatia have shown that they never give up and have always found a way.”
“Watching on Dutch TV, they were quite unequivocal that Croatia deserved the victory and were several gears above the English,” reports Ali Houston. “That’s the polite version anyway. They were most, uh, constructive, in their criticism.”
“Got to give Croatia props for attacking to the final second,” says Zafar Sobhan. “None of this dribbling the ball to the corner flag rubbish.”
And a defiant word from Hubert O’Hearn: “It’s coming home … soon.”
And now a full-time dispatch from Kevin Rawlinson at the Hyde Park shindig.
“It’s like the Olympics again.” There was a feeling of high optimism in Hyde Park, where new fans mixed with the more established, as kick-off approached. By the time the night was over, that was replaced by silent resignation.
As Hyde Park filled up early on Wednesday evening, the Lightning Seeds had got the crowd going with a live rendition of Three Lions on the main stage. At that point, “it was coming home”.
Will Prior, one of the tens of thousands of fans who had made his way to central London for the match, didn’t think England would get the job done in normal time. After a 0-0 draw, he saw them doing it on penalties.
“I can’t handle penalties,” says Charlotte Garside, 29. She didn’t have to. That was almost crueler.
Neither was really old enough to remember England’s last World Cup semi-final appearance. Each admitted they wouldn’t have been interested if they were. They were some of those people in the country who had been energised by England’s performance so far.
“I just think everybody is here for the atmosphere. People normally have no hope … we’ve got fresh blood this year,” said Garside. Her prediction had been: 3-2 after extra time, following a 2-2 draw.
Max Kennedy, 21, was not even old enough to remember England’s more recent semi-final appearance – in the 1996 European Championship – the first time it was said to be coming home. He believes the festival-like atmosphere was far better than watching the match in a packed pub. “You can tell everyone is just on it.”
Eamonn Power and his friends could remember 1990. They said they did not see much optimism on the streets pre-match. “You don’t see so many England flags,” said David Dickson. That was, they said, until they got into Hyde Park, where they watched the match with 50,000 similarly optimistic fans.
The fact Kennedy had never seen England get this far perhaps his pre-match optimism more surprising: 3-1 England, he said just before kick-off. Kane to score two. Within 10 minutes, England would be one up and thousands of plastic pint glasses would be emptied into the evening air – quite a feat at £6-a-pint.
Everything seemed to looking up at that point. The sun was shining and England were heading into the World Cup final to play France. Soon after half-time, however, the smiling faces were creased with worry. Croatia had equalised and the sun had sunk behind the trees. Soon, it would be gone altogether.
A deflated Harry Kane speaks. “It’s tough. We’re gutted, you know. We worked so hard. The fans were amazing. It was a tough game, a 50-50 game. I’m sure there was stuff we could have done better, but we worked as hard as we could. It hurts, it’ll hurt for a while, but we can hold our heads up high. It was a fantastic journey, we got further than anyone thought we could, we’ve just got to learn from it. We created some good chances, being 1-0 up. Maybe we dropped too deep at times. In big games, it’s small margins. There’s a lot we could have done better, but they played well. It’s been great to get to this stage, but we wanted to go on and win it. But we’ve fallen a bit short. It just hurts. It shows we can win knockout games; the next stage is to go one further. We’ve got to dust ourselves down and go again in a couple of years.”
The greatest thing about this England campaign? There can be no scapegoats. Because every single player has been magnificent in their own way. And so it’s that time to give the players your ratings. Tens all round? C’mon, spread the love!
Sorry, I’ve been wittering … here’s our on-the-whistle match report.
Gareth Southgate is a class act. Ever the gentleman, he congratulates Zlatko Dalic, a hug and a hand clasp, and consoles his players. An arm around Kane, and a word in his ear. A gentle hand to lift Young from the floor. He’s obviously coping with feelings of crushing disappointment himself, but as ever, retains the demeanour of a statesman. He’s done England proud.
England’s players collapse to the floor. You know exactly how they feel. Rashford sobs into the turf. Lingard looks distraught too. Maguire stunned. Alli with his head in his hands. Football’s not coming home after all. But two things: England have been magnificent tonight, and this is a run that will echo down the ages. Heroes all. Croatia meanwhile, after being run ragged in the first half, were the better team for the rest of the match and deservedly make it to the final. Commiserations to England’s heroic young squad … but congratulations to Croatia!
EXTRA TIME, FULL TIME: Croatia 2-1 England
The free kick’s no good. Floated in. The man-of-the-match Perisic races off with the ball … and the English dream is over. Croatia will play France in the 2018 World Cup final!
ET 30 min +4: England will have one last set piece to save themselves! Alli tries to burst down the left. Badelj stops him, but only by handling! England load the box. Rashford takes!
ET 30 min +3: Perisic romps down the left. Crosses. Pickford claims and launches long but can’t find anyone.
ET 30 min +2: After a tussle for the ball, Alli gathers Rakitic’s shirt into his fist, in the old-school cartoon style. Again, it nearly descends into saloon-style shenanigans, but the ref snuffs it out. Dier hoists long but Subasic claims.
ET 30 min +1: Rakitic and Perisic meander down the left. The clock ticks on. There are now three minutes for England to save their World Cup dream.
ET 30 min: Croatia triangulate nicely down the right. Suddenly Kramaric is romping into the box! He’s got Perisic free in the middle, but decides to go for the top right. He only ripples the side netting. There will be four minutes of added time.
ET 29 min: Modric is replaced by Badelj.
ET 28 min: Trippier can’t continue. He’s being helped off. Meanwhile on the field, the ten men of England win a free kick down the left, Alli fouled. England load the box. Rashford floats it into the mixer. The ball flicks off Lovren’s head, but the ref thinks it’s come off Maguire. Goal kick.
ET 26 min: Meanwhile Trippier limps off with a groin complaint. He looks in a bad way. England will defend the corner with ten men. Perisic has a crack from distance. Pickford mishandles, but gathers … and is barged by an over-enthusiastic Vida. Free kick. For a second it looks like kicking off, but the referee is over quickly, and to be honest, Pickford just wants to get on with it.
ET 25 min: Pivaric and Rakitic combine well down the left, earning a corner. Before it can be taken, Mandzukic is replaced by Corluka. The big striker takes his own sweet time to leave the field of play, and the referee performs the international mime for “I’m adding on some time, son.”
ET 23 min: Rashford hoists in from the left, hoping to find Alli. But Subasic is out quickly to spring high and claim.
ET 22 min: Gareth Southgate rolls the dice for the last time, replacing Walker with Vardy. Rashford races down the left and lifts a cross into the box. But there’s nobody in white nearby. Modric clears calmly.
ET 20 min: A fine finish by Mandzukic, though it was more sleepy defending by England. This is the first time they’ve fallen behind on their Russian adventure. Can they rescue themselves at the death?
GOAL! Croatia 2-1 England (Mandzukic ET 19)
England fail to clear a high ball down the left. Perisic beats Trippier to a header to the left of the D. Mandzukic meets the dropping ball, and flashes an unstoppable low shot across Pickford and into the bottom right.
ET 18 min: Croatia take it quickly. England are snoozing. Brozovic barrels down the inside-left channel into acres of space. He’s in the area and meets the ball … but blazes it high and wide left. England breathe again, because that was poor defending.
ET 17 min: Croatia are hogging the ball in the early stages of this final period. Perisic, who has been excellent tonight, works his way down the left and wins a corner.
And we’re off again! Again! Croatia get the ball rolling. Goodness knows how this final period will pan out. We’re 15 minutes away from penalty kicks; just saying.
EXTRA TIME, HALF TIME: Croatia 1-1 England
The corner leads to nothing. Modric faffs about on the left, and that’s that for the first half of extra time. That was an outstanding save by Pickford, who is unquestionably one of England’s players of the tournament. If not the England player of the tournament, Kane’s goals and all. Mandzukic is still walking very gingerly.
ET 15 min +2: Then Perisic, deep on the left, curls low for Mandzukic, on the edge of the six-yard box. Pickford comes out bravely to put the striker off: he star jumps and Mandzukic’s effort is deflected wide and high. What a save! But he’s also crumped Mandzukic in his trouser arrangement with his knee. So there’s a bit of time for the striker to catch his breath before the corner’s taken.
ET 15 min +1: There will be two minutes added to this period. In the first, Perisic is sent scampering into space down the left. He pulls one back for Kramaric, who hits first time. But his shot is blocked.
ET 15 min: The game has slowed to walking pace now. A mixture of exhaustion and nervous tension.
ET 13 min: Rose has been dangerous since his introduction. He makes good ground down the left, and his fizzing cross is well dealt with by Lovren. England have regained the initiative, after seriously rocking during that second half.
ET 12 min: Croatia’s free kick is a waste of time.
ET 11 min: England have been the better team since the start of extra time. But then Croatia launch pretty much their first attack of the period. Vrsaljko races down the right. Rashford slides in. No contact, but it’s a free kick anyway. Before that can be taken, Rebic is replaced by the in-form Kramaric.
ET 9 min: Trippier’s ball flashes onto the head of Stones, 12 yards out and level with the right-hand post. Stones guides his header towards the top left. It’s going in, but Vrsaljko is on the line and clears! So close!
ET 8 min: Dier is immediately into the action, earning a corner with a speculative shot from distance. Trippier will take, out on the right.
ET 7 min: Trippier chips the free kick into the area, towards Maguire. But now it’s a free kick for Croatia, Henderson having knocked Mandzukic over. And that’s Henderson’s evening over: he’s replaced by Dier.
ET 6 min: Rose goes skittering at pace down the middle. Rebic slides in from behind and picks up a yellow card. The free kick is central, and a good 35 yards out. Here’s Gary Byrne: “Regardless of the result, France are absolutely loving this.”
ET 4 min: England are seeing more of the ball. You’d think Croatia – older, and with an extra period of half time in their legs – could struggle if this keeps up. Strinic goes down, feeling his groin. It looks as though he’ll be hooked for Pivaric … though he’s taking an age to traipse off.
ET 2 min: England turn down the chance of throwing high into the box, and the chance to put Croatia under pressure is gone.
Here we go again! England have made another change, swapping Young for Rose. They kick off, and quickly Rashford is making his presence felt down the right. He earns a throw deep in Croatian territtory. England should have had a corner, Brozovic hacking clear from behind the byline, but they don’t get it.
FULL TIME: Croatia 1-1 England
It was always going to be this way, wasn’t it. We’re slap-bang in the middle of an epic.
90 min +2: Trippier loops a slow one to the far post. Kane meets it, but from eight yards flashes a header wide left. That wasn’t the easiest of chances … but it wasn’t the hardest, either. Kane wears the disappointed look of a man who knows he should have done a little better.
90 min +1: Rashford dribbles infield from the right and is clumsily bowled to the ground by Rakitic. What a chance for England to load the box, and score from yet another set piece. If they do, they’re in the final!
90 min: Lovren attempts a shot from 30 yards. Hats off for ambition, I suppose. There are three extra minutes between these two street-fighting teams and extra time.
88 min: Rebic is released into a little space out on the left. He hoofs a needlessly panicked cross out of play on the other wing. A lot of players thinking about extra time now. A lot of players dreading making a mistake that would almost certainly decide this semi-final.
87 min: Kane, deep on the left, nearly finds Lingard with a clever threaded diagonal pass. It’s inches away from the striker, who can’t sort his feet out in time to control. Lingard was free on the spot. This is beyond tense!
86 min: Strinic dribbles in from the left, a wonderful solo run. He thinks about shooting, but instead looks for Perisic in acres on the right. Wrong choice. His pass is wild, sailing out for a throw. Perisic stretches to reach it in the knackered style. He puts his hands on his knees and takes a few gulps of air.
84 min: England fail to deal with a high ball. Pickford comes off his line to punch. It’s not a good one, falling straight to Perisic, out on the left. Perisic tries to return it instantly, the net now unguarded, but hoists it over the bar.
83 min: Brozovic dinks a pass down the inside-right channel. Mandzukic, who has been quiet, swivels and hammers a shot at goal from a tight-ish angle. Pickford parries brilliantly. England go up the other end. A long ball deceives Vida, nearly letting Rashford in. Subasic rises high to claim.
81 min: Trippier nearly sends the very dangerous Perisic through with a weak prod back towards his keeper. Stones does just enough to stop Perisic wriggling free, and Pickford hammers clear … though he nearly hits Perisic in doing so. The nerves are rattling all right.
80 min: Stones is hassled and harried by Rebic. The ball flies out of play for a throw. Stones unleashes a volley of abuse at the referee. For a throw in the midfield! The stress is beginning to show.
78 min: England are looking dangerous for the first time this half. Croatia can’t get out of their box. Henderson tries to release Lingard. The ball breaks back to him. He tries a dipping volley. Over the bar. This really could go either way: neither team looks secure at the back. And the nerves will really start to kick in right about now.
77 min: Rakitic, deep on the left, sends a high diagonal ball into the middle. Pickford comes to the edge of his box to claim well, under severe pressure from the marauding Perisic. England go up the other end, Lingard gliding into the box down the inside-right channel and dragging a shot across the face of goal. That wasn’t far away from creeping into the bottom left.
75 min: Croatia are playing at a high tempo now. They sense blood. Vrsaljko moves down the right. His low cross nearly finds Perisic on the penalty spot. England hack clear. They survive. Just.
74 min: England make the first change of the evening, swapping Sterling for Rashford.
73 min: England are rocking. Croatia win a corner down the right. Vrsaljko’s ball in is half cleared. Brozovic latches onto it, and blazes a 20-yarder a similar distance over the bar.
71 min: Croatia hit the post! Stones hesitates on the edge of the area, and shanks a clearance. Perisic drops a shoulder and enters the box down the left. He whistles a low shot across Pickford and off the right-hand upright! The ball breaks to Rebic, who can only waft a soft first-time shot into the grateful arms of Pickford!
70 min: England have been a little passive since the restart. Kane tries to get them going, racing down the left and launching diagonally for Trippier, romping into the box from the other flank. There’s just a bit too much juice on the pass. Goal kick. But that’s a decent response to conceding the equaliser.
GOAL! Croatia 1-1 England (Perisic 68)
Croatia had been turning up the pressure, and now they’ve got their reward! Vrsaljko, deep on the right, curls towards the far post. Walker stoops to head clear, but Perisic nips in from behind, and high-kicks a first-time flick into the left-hand portion of the net! That’s a superb finish! And it had been … sort of … coming.
67 min: Kane races after a bouncing ball down the inside-right channel. He can only meet it just as it reaches the byline; his attempt to curl in a wonder-goal ripples the side netting.
65 min: Modric finally gets some joy down the right. His cross inside is half cleared, but only to Perisic, whose shot from the edge of the box is blocked by Walker. Ooyah, he’s taken that in his fruit bowl. While he’s down, Croatia throw another cross into the area. Walker gets up, heads one clear, and then goes back down in pain! That’s some fine old-school determination! You sense Terry Butcher would approve.
63 min: Trippier slides a pass down the right, nearly releasing Lingard but forcing Vida into a heavy touch out of play. From the throw, Henderson eventually slips a gorgeous pass down the channel for Sterling, who tries to turn Vida but can’t quite get past for a shot. Sterling stumbles, Croatia clear. Sterling doesn’t request a penalty kick.
61 min: Rakitic meets a loose ball, 25 yards out … and shanks a hopeless effort miles over the crossbar. He allows the look of a frustrated man to slowly wash across his face.
59 min: Walker shins a poor Rebic left-wing cross out of play. Another corner for Croatia. Pickford clears to Lingard, who is shoulder charged out of the road by Lovren. A free kick, though England had plenty of men prepared to break; they’d have rather played on.
58 min: Rebic and Strinic combine cutely down the left, the former sending the latter into the box. He’s got options in the middle, but can’t find anyone in black and Maguire clears. Croatia are showing signs of flickering into life, without making a totally persuasive argument for getting back into this.
56 min: The ball’s teed up for Lingard, 20 yards out, by Sterling. His shot is deflected out for a corner kick. Perisic clears, but the ball’s sent down the right for Trippier, who crosses low. Kane attempts a Keith Houchen diving header, but can’t connect. That would have been some goal!
55 min: From the throw, Croatia force a corner. From which Lovren is penalised for Duggee-hugging Maguire. Dejan hug!
54 min: Walker is booked for stopping Croatia taking a quick throw. For a second, it looked like it might all kick off, as Rebic snatched the ball off him. But the referee was quick to calm everyone down.
52 min: Rebic swings one in deep from the left. He’s hoping to find Perisic coming in at the far post, but there’s too much on the pass. Goal kick. Croatia are at least spending more time in England’s half, but they’re not doing very much to trouble their opponents.
51 min: Croatia shouldn’t lose the head yet, there’s plenty of time.
49 min: Kane is bundled into the hoardings down the right as he contests a loose 50-50 with Vida. He’s not happy about it, but the referee sees no transgression of the laws.
48 min: Rebic meets Walker in the robust style once again. Mandzukic is booked for angrily punching the ball away after the award of a foul. Croatia have obviously been told to take it up a notch.
47 min: Maguire – who has looked a little shaky on occasion tonight – misses a simple header on the edge of the area. There’s some relief as the lurking Rebic clanks into Walker needlessly and concedes a free kick.
The teams are out again! Croatia get the ball rolling again. No changes. Croatia are historically very dangerous during the first 20 seconds of World Cup semi-finals, but there’s no Davor Suker style surprise for England this time. We’re 30 seconds in. Phew.
Half-time guarded optimism: “Dan Weingrod is wrong though isn’t he?” writes Gary Naylor. “England have pace up front, a goalscoring centre-forward, two confident centre-halves and a fine goalkeeper. Given even 25% possession, with that you have a chance. That’s why IT’S COMING HOME. Peut-être…”
Adam Kline-Schoder adds: “Although like any England supporter I am of course expecting imminent doom, I’m really impressed with how the likes of Alli, Lingard and Sterling are taking the game to Vrsaljko and Strinic so far. They definitely seem to be attempting to take advantage of the Croats’ tiredness. Henderson’s positioning has also been excellent again. Modric was starting to dictate the tempo a bit more by the end of the half, though, which has me worried. Rebic also looks impressive, and has gone straight for England’s jugular when his midfield can be bothered to get the ball to him.”
“I’m watching on ITV, I’m in France, texting my French friends and flowing you and Le Monde’s version of an MBM,” begins multi-tasking’s Lizz Poulter. “Their writer thinks Sterling is a match for Mbappé as far as speed goes. I think Mbappé’s been absolutely outstanding during this tournament so good to see a bit of respect coming our way. Enjoy half time – I need to breathe.”
And finally here’s Lionel Artom-Ginzburg: “How about “Space for Trippier” as a 1967 band name?”
Half-time dispatch from Kevin Rawlinson in Hyde Park:
“It’s like the Olympics again.” There’s a feeling of high optimism in Hyde Park, where new fans are mixing with the more established. That said, Will Prior, one of the tens of thousands of fans who’s made his way to central London for the match, doesn’t think England will get the job done in normal time. After a 0-0 draw, he sees them doing it on penalties.
“I can’t handle penalties,” says Charlotte Garside, 29, soon after the Lightning Seeds leave the stage.
Neither is really old enough to remember England’s last World Cup semi-final appearance. Each admits they wouldn’t have been interested if they were. They are some of those people in the country who have been energised by England’s performance so far.
“I just think everybody is here for the atmosphere. People normally have no hope .. we’ve got fresh blood this year,” says Garside. Her prediction: 3-2 after extra time, following a 2-2 draw.
Max Kennedy, 21, is not even old enough to remember England’s more recent semi-final appearance – in the 1996 European Championship – the first time it was said to be coming home. He believes the festival-like atmosphere is far better than watching the match in a packed pub. “You can tell everyone is just on it.”
HALF TIME: Croatia 0-1 England
And that’s that for the first half! In which Kieran Trippier has put England 45 minutes away from their second World Cup final! You’ll be back for the second half, right?
45 min +2: A free kick for Croatia out on the left. It’s hooked into the box and cleared by Walker. Meanwhile Lovren goes down very easily under a tug on the shoulder by Maguire. They check the VAR, but it’s not a clear and obvious error. We’ve seen them given for that sort of thing during this World Cup, mind, but Croatia aren’t getting a penalty.
45 min: A Maguire backpass nearly puts England in all sorts of bother. Walker just about ushers it back to Pickford, but the keeper tugs a terrible kick straight to Perisic, who races towards the box down the left. He dribbles inside with a view of getting closer and closer to shoot … but over-elaborates. England clear.
43 min: Vrsaljko has a dig from distance. It wouldn’t trouble Pickford if the keeper had 30-yard arms.
41 min: This half is kind of petering out, which is good news for Croatia, who really need to regroup. England have been well worth their lead, though they might think they really should have scored a second while the going was good. The next four or five minutes could be crucial.
39 min: A slight lull. Opportunity for Russians in the stadium to give pro-Ukrainian sloganeer Vida the bird. “Based on state of play, France would beat either of these teams while calmly sipping a pastis and smoking a couple of Gauloises,” opines party-pooper Dan Weingrod. But what if they were blissed out on Calpol?
37 min: Space for Trippier down the right. His cross is no good. He’s still in moral credit. He’s got plenty of moral credit. “And yes, Dr Sawyer’s Prescriptive Spoonful is what I’d call my band if I ever got around to forming one,” writes 1967’s Phil Sawyer.
36 min: England are threatening to put some distance between themselves and their opponents. Kane, bustling from deep, slips a clever pass down the inside left to release Alli into some space. Alli thinks about crafting a curler, but tees up Lingard instead. Lingard’s in a lot of space on the edge of the D, but his gentle curler, aimed towards the bottom right, ends up sailing harmlessly wide.
34 min: Rebic is beginning to cause England a bit of trouble. He races down the inside-right channel after a crossfield pass, and is about to shoot when Young slides in to toepoke away. That’s a crucial tackle, because for the first time Croatia could see the colour of Pickford’s eyes. The resulting corner comes to nought.
33 min: Rebic goes up for a long ball, but only succeeds in clattering Pickford to the floor. A foul, but nothing more, and we all play on.
32 min: Modric shows in the final third at last. His baroque dribbles confuse England awhile, and then the ball breaks back to Rebic, who sends a rising heatseeker towards the top left. Pickford has his hands warmed for the first time this evening, but it’s an easy enough gather.
30 min: How on earth has Kane not scored here?! Lingard slips Kane free with a cute pass down the inside-left channel. Kane opens his body to sidefoot into the bottom right. Subasic stops, but the ball breaks left of the target. Kane, from a tight angle, manages to hit the post, the ball ricocheting back onto the keeper, up and away! That was utterly absurd, in very many ways!
29 min: Strinic, standing next to Perisic on the left, manages to pass the ball out of play while attempting to find his man. That’s dismal. Croatia really need something to happen to get back on an even keel, because they’re looking as nervous as England look confident.
27 min: Young hoicks it long into the mixer. Subasic, the box packed, does very well to punch clear at the far post.
26 min: Strinic curls one into the England box from the left, but there’s nobody in black in the box. Sterling goes off down the left wing at great speed. He’s blocked by Lovren, who is really chancing his arm now. But it’s a free kick, and a chance to load the box. And you know what England are like at set pieces. “In belated news for William Davies, Actifed does the job,” writes Phil Sawyer. “I’ve no idea if it works on kids, but it does the job for me. Might be needing one of Dr Sawyer’s prescriptive spoonfuls by the end of all this excitement.”
24 min: This is a gloriously open, end-to-end match. Perisic sends a shot well wide left at one end; Sterling briefly threatens to dribble his way straight through the Croatian defence, but falls at the last hurdle. The England fans are giving it plenty, as you’d imagine; their team are in the ascendancy here.
22 min: Lovren shoves Kane in the chest, two hands, as the striker threatens to zip past him in the centre circle. It should be a booking, but no. England give up possession from the free kick easily enough. But then Subasic sends the ball out to Strinic, putting the defender in all sorts of trouble. Sterling makes off with it, and should shoot from the edge of the area, but instead pings forward for Kane, who is miles offside. And drags his shot wide anyway.
21 min: A loose pass by Maguire allows Rebic to power in from the right. He shapes to shoot. Stones blocks bravely, getting his defensive pal out of trouble. Then another phase of attack, as Vrsaljko makes good on the right. His low cross evades everyone in a black shirt, and England clear.
19 min: Perisic cuts in from the left and has a whack, sending a low daisycutter inches wide of the left post. Pickford had it covered, were it on target. It should have been a corner, mind, flicking lightly off Walker’s ankle, but Croatia aren’t getting the decision.
18 min: Rakitic attempts to release Vrsaljko down the right with a raking crossfield pass. It flies into the stand, but so little have Croatia achieved in attack so far, it’s theatrically applauded by his team-mate anyway. Croatia trying to keep their heads up.
16 min: Croatia are struggling to string two passes together right now. Vrsaljko, slightly frustrated, clatters into Kane. Not enough for a booking, but enough for the referee to keep it in mind going forward. “Kids asleep,” reports Calpol and Talisker’s William Davies. “Now what have I missed?”
14 min: England win another corner, Alli slipping a pass wide right for Trippier, who knocks the ball off Strinic. He takes the set piece himself. Maguire wins this one again, but from his position on the penalty spot, sends a downward header wide right. Croatia don’t look comfortable at all. They’re seriously rocking.
12 min: Alli, chasing a loose ball, forces Brozovic into the concession of a corner from 30 yards out. Maguire gets his head on the delivery from the left, but he’s pushing and the referee relieves the pressure on Croatia.
11 min: Maguire and Stones take turns to play loose passes out of defence. In both instances, they’re extremely fortunate not to give up possession and put themselves in bother. England will need to guard against over-confidence.
9 min: The corner’s no good. It should be easily cleared by Alli, who does clear, but only after nearly passing straight to a black shirt. England skitter upfield at speed again, and Kane very nearly springs Steling clear … but Vrsaljko does enough to get in the road. England are oozing confidence. They’ve sprung out of the blocks magnificently!
8 min: Perisic sends the ball into the England box from the left. Young miscontrols at the far post and concedes a corner. Croatia’s first chance to test England.
7 min: That’s a sensational strike. Croatia try to strike back immediately, Rebic hooking into the England box from the right. Pickford claims easily, and sets England away on another attack. Sterling skedaddles down the right after a long pass, and very nearly latches onto it, but Subasic is quickly off his line to smother. What a start by England! Whisper it: this is the way champions carry on.
GOAL! Croatia 0-1 England (Trippier 5)
Kieran Tripper scores his first goal for England, and what a strike! He takes the free kick, whips it over the wall, and back down into the top right. Subasic had no chance! Trippier joins Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker as an English semi-final scorer!
4 min: But suddenly England burst into life, Lingard spinning in delicately from the right to feed Alli, who is bundled over by Modric, just in front of the D. A free kick in a very dangerous position! What a turn by Lingard though. Evidence of the confidence running through this England side.
3 min: England get their first feel of the ball, Walker, Maguire and Stones taking turns to stroke it back and forth. Eventually Pickford blooters it long and concedes possession. Then Mandzukic leaps into Stones to concede a free kick. This match has started in the very tatty fashion. Understandable, no?
2 min: Croatia knock it around the back a bit. Lingard goes clattering into Strinic and earns a calm-down chat from the ref. Nothing major, the ref knows it’s just a bit of early nerves.
And we’re off! England get their third World Cup semi-final underway! Huge roars. It’s not long before Henderson bowls Rakitic over. A scrappy start. But what an atmosphere!
Oh, and before we start … we’ll have words, but we’ll also have pictures. Clickity click!
The teams are out! Both sets of fans give the national anthems plenty. We’ll be off in a minute. Yes, this is really happening! “William Davies should just let his two toddlers watch the game,” argues James Beesley. “They will be asleep in no time. This will be cagey and low-scoring affair, I reckon.” If this is a seven-goal thriller, we all know who to thank.
Our man Kevin Rawlinson is down in Hyde Park, where some kind of World Cup based shindig involving a big screen is going on. God speed, Kevin, I hope you’ve taken an umbrella. He’ll be writing about getting soaked to the skin by beer later, but here’s an early bonus dispatch: “It’s filling up and, with 20 minutes to go till kick-off, the Lightning Seeds have just got the crowd going with a live rendition of Three Lions on the main stage. It’s coming home, apparently. Not sure if you’d heard.”
Also, if you can’t be bothered to watch the football tonight, you can watch a live stream of other people watching it, Gogglebox style, by clicking below. Now that’s meta media. Meta media’s always good, right?
St. Gareth speaks to ITV! “It’s the next game. We’ve prepared the same way we have every match. We know the opportunity that presents itself. Our preparation and mentality will be the same. The team have played well, and performed in the matches that matter. We have great options to change the game, whichever course it’s taking, but these guys deserve the chance to go again and physically they’re in good condition. Croatia have got some outstanding individuals, they are very strong at attacking crosses, they have great spirit and togetherness and we have to match everything they throw at us. Our mentality tonight is key: we have to have self-belief, but also mental strength in the moments when we are challenged and tested. We can feel the energy and support, but we have to disconnect ourselves from that because we have a game to play. We don’t want it to end here.”
The national anthems. Croatia first. Lijepa naša domovino is a pastoral delight. ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯ Our beautiful homeland / O so fearless and gracious / Our fathers’ ancient glory / May you be happy forever … Drava, Sava, keep on flowing! / Danube, do not lose your vigour! / Deep blue sea, tell the world / That a Croat loves his people! ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯
And now it’s England’s turn. We all know the words. All together now: ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯
God save our gracious Queen / Long live our noble Queen
Woah-oh / England are in Russia / Woah-oh / Drinking all the vodka / Woah-oh / England’s going all the way! ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♯
Pre-match chat. “RTE here in Ireland are broadcasting from a pub in Galway with the extended Kane family,” reports David Flynn. “Apparently he’s more Irish than English. It could have been so different. We could have benched Kevin Doyle.”
Some bad news too for Jim Hobbs’s partner: “My wife wants to know if England will be wearing their lucky shirts. I didn’t know they had lucky shirts, but she says that they are the red ones.”
And finally an urgent request from William Davies: “Any quick tips for getting my two toddlers to bed by 7pm? Partner working, no babysitters for love nor money, so am desperate.” Calpol? It pairs well with whisky, they say. Bell’s, Grouse or Teacher’s, don’t waste the single malt on them.
A peek inside the dressing rooms. Croatia will be playing in their second-choice black shirts with dark-blue check. By the looks of it, they’ll also be talking tactics and watching a bit of telly.
England meanwhile will be playing in first-choice white. Just as they did in 1966 and 1990, so nothing gained or lost there. Bit of a shame to see the lettering on the pennant is printed rather than stitched, but then we are coming towards the end of a decade of austerity. That wood panelling looks really solid, though, and of the highest five-star-spa quality. So it’s swings and roundabouts.
♫ ♬ ♪ It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming home (reprise) ♫ ♬ ♪ “Even if England do go on to win the World Cup, further trophy-free years (of hurt) will no doubt resume at some point in the future,” concludes Dan Geary. “But at what point will it become acceptable to call them years of hurt again? The first number of years (of hurt) which contains more than one syllable (after seven of course, which is obviously far too early), and therefore scans properly, is 13, which takes us to 2031. The next World Cup after then will be in 2034, when Jack Wilshere will be 42 and too old to participate. But even then, is 16 years of hurt long enough to justify the complaint? Or would ‘nagging absence’ be more apt? I wonder what David Baddiel thinks.” ♫ ♬ ♪ Sixteen years of nagging absence / never stopped me dreaming ♫ ♬ ♪ It’s catchy as hell. If you’ve got a flat-enough singing voice, you should record it.
What does the selection of Brozovic over the in-form Kramaric mean for Croatia? According to our tactics guru Jonathan Wilson, it’ll liberate Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Here’s his breakdown of where this semi may be won or lost.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Gareth Southgate has, much as expected, named the same side sent out to see off Sweden in the quarter-final. Raheem Sterling, consistently dangerous against the Swedes without personal reward, keeps his place and will flit around alongside Harry Kane. No extra help in midfield for Jordan Henderson.
Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic makes just the one change from the starting XI he selected against Russia. Andrej Kramaric of Hoffenheim is replaced by Internazionale holding midfielder Marcelo Brozovic. Their big news: Sime Vrsaljko is fit, despite picking up a knee knock in the quarters.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Rebic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic.
Subs: Livakovic, Corluka, Kovacic, Kramaric, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Badelj, Pjaca, Pivaric, Lovre Kalinic.
England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Alli, Henderson, Lingard, Young, Sterling, Kane.
Subs: Butland, Rose, Dier, Vardy, Welbeck, Cahill, Jones, Delph, Rashford, Loftus-Cheek, Alexander-Arnold, Pope.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).
Superstition corner. Croatia have got this far after two tense penalty shoot-outs, against Denmark and hosts Russia. A good omen? The only other team to have managed two shootout wins at a single World Cup, consecutive or otherwise, were Argentina in 1990, against Yugoslavia in the quarters and Italy in the semis. Croatia will hope they similarly reach the final.
As for England? They’ll be relying on the old saying that bad luck comes in threes. The English have lost their last three semi-finals in major tournaments: Euro 68 against Yugoslavia, Italia 90 against West Germany, and Euro 96 against Germany. So that sequence having been completed, a new positive cycle can begin. That’s how fate works, fairly and methodically, right?
England have the better of the head-to-head with the Republika Hrvatska. The countries have met on seven occasions since 1996, and England have won four of them. In some style, as well: a 3-1 friendly win at Portman Road in 2003; a 4-2 victory at Euro 2004 (aka the Wayne Rooney game); a 4-1 triumph in Zagreb in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup (aka the Theo Walcott game); and a 5-1 thrashing at Wembley during the same qualification campaign. Some big wins there.
But there are a couple of major triumphs for Croatia, too, ones which left scars on the English psyche. They came home and away in the qualifiers for Euro 2008, results which ensured Steve McClaren’s side never made the tournament proper. Both games are painful memories for England: a 2-0 win in Zagreb best remembered for the Gary Neville backpass that bobbled over a divot and deceived Paul Robinson as Borat glared in the background; and a 3-2 humiliation at Wembley, Scott Carson’s mistake, Steve’s brolly, all that.
There’s been no meeting since 2009. This reunion’s been worth waiting for.
Croatia have only reached one semi-final before. But then they’ve only been competing in the World Cup for a couple of decades; England had a half-century head start on them. Their very first entry, for France 98, culminated in a third-placed finish: only Uruguay and Argentina, and Italy and Czechoslovakia, have fared better on their maiden tilt at a World Cup (as winners and runners-up of the 1930 and 1934 tournaments respectively). Portugal did manage third spot on their finals debut in 1966, but they’d been competing in qualification for years.
Anyway, I sense I’m losing you, so back to 1998, and Croatia’s semi against the hosts France. It was goalless at half time. After 20 seconds of the restart, Davor Suker put Croatia in front; Lilian Thuram was at fault for playing him onside. It didn’t take the French defender long to make amends. Thuram robbed Zvonimir Boban on the edge of the area, one-twoed with Youri Djorkaeff, and fired France level. Then after 69 minutes he exchanged passes with Thierry Henry and shaped a gorgeous winner. All that was left was for Laurent Blanc to become the red-card victim of Slaven Bilic’s grift. France made it to the final and went on to lift the cup; Croatia beat the Netherlands to that third spot.
It was another 24 years before England reached the semis again. They hadn’t impressed en route to the last four of Italia 90 – they were fortunate to squeak past Cameroon in the quarters – but our legendary reporter David Lacey retained hope before the big game against West Germany anyway. “England’s success has been a triumph of the will. The players have clung to the thought that it might be another 24 years before an England team had as good a chance as this. You have to allow for the possibility that, in a World Cup which has so consistently scorned the obvious, England might win.” The more things change, eh readers?
But it was not to be. In the wake of that night in Turin, Lacey reported how “England’s luck ran out when they deserved it most”, having “proved themselves the equals of West Germany and sometimes their betters”. Andy Brehme’s free kick deflected off Paul Parker and looped over a flat-footed Peter Shilton, and though Gary Lineker swivelled adroitly to equalise late on, Bobby Robson’s side lost their nerve in a penalty shoot-out. “A sadistically cruel way for any team to be beaten at this stage,” sighed Lacey. “A pity Lineker could not have taken all of them.”
Anyone desirous of reliving the whole bittersweet experience blow for blow – hey, each to their own – can do so with our Retro MBM of the match.
England’s first appearance in a World Cup semi-final came in 1966. The tournament hadn’t been up to much, tell the truth, an orgy of violence and cynicism. But England and Portugal served up a match which, according to our man Albert Barham, “went a long, long way towards restoring the glitter to this world competition”. There wasn’t a foul until the 22-minute mark; Portugal committed their first offence after 57 minutes. When Alberto Festa slid into a tackle and cut up the Wembley turf, he went to painstaking lengths to replace the divot. Bobby Charlton scored twice from the edge of the box; the gracious Portuguese took turns to shake his hand after the second. Jack Charlton did a Luis Suarez on the line; Eusebio put away the penalty. England hung on to make the final, and then … you know. “They play with the heart,” smiled Portugal manager Otto Gloria after the game. “They play football as it should be played!”
♫ ♬ ♪ It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming … ♪ ♫ ♬ … well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves: there are still 180 minutes minimum of nerve-shredding, fingernail-bothering, brow-furrowing, edge-of-seat-teetering, stomach-churning, hand-wringing, throat-shredding, palm-sticking, breath-restricting, bowel-rumbling, eye-moistening, sweat-pouring, mind-racing, epoch-making, potentially-life-changing football between England and their holy grail of the 2018 World Cup.
But to blazes with rationality! Clear your throat, gargle with honey vodka, practice your scales, and belt it out loud! As the great soccer pundit Deborah Harry once so nearly observed: dreaming is free, Clive. So grasp with both hands this opportunity to get carried away in the moment; giddy excitement is the entire point of sport, and if it all goes wrong later, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Enjoy every sweet second while you can, because possibilities like these don’t come around too often. All together now: ♫ ♬ ♪ Three lions on a shirt, the Fifa World Cup Trophy™ still gleaming … ♪ ♫ ♬
To a whole generation, this is uncharted territory. But England have been here twice before. More specific details to come, because goodness knows we’ve got plenty of time to kill before kick-off. But consider: Alf Ramsey’s heroes saw off Portugal at Wembley in 1966 without too much bother, and look what happened after that. Then 24 years later, Bobby Robson’s side were a penalty shoot-out away from defeating one of the great West Germany teams. England handle themselves at this stage of the World Cup pretty well, you know.
There, that should calm your nerves. That hasn’t calmed your nerves, has it.
England’s opponents Croatia are contesting their second World Cup semi-final, looking to go one step further than 1998. It promises to be one heck of a battle. But whatever happens tonight, here’s to English and Croatian fans coming together as one in the name of peace, love and harmony. Life’s too short for a mere World Cup semi to drive a wedge between us … even if a bench-emptying brawl erupts in the last minute of extra-time as a result of an outrageous VAR penalty decision. We’re all bigger and better than that, right? Right! On we go, then. It’s the World Cup semi-final! A World Cup semi-final involving England! A World Cup semi-final involving England! Oh me! Oh my!! Oh help!!! It’s on!!!!!
Kick off: 7pm BST, 8pm in Zagreb, 9pm at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
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