England face biggest World Cup match in 28 years

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Mario Mandzukic scored in the 109th minute as Croatia came from behind to beat England 2-1 after extra time on Wednesday and reach their first World Cup final, where they will face France on Sunday, and send the Balkan nation into raptures.

"He will be under the most glaring spotlight imaginable as he leads the Croatia defence in their World Cup semi-final against England, and the sight of Harry Kane lining up against him once again might just unnerve him".

Against Denmark and Russian Federation in the earlier rounds, Croatia were also forced to go through the ordeal of penalties before advancing, but the fact remains that they will face France having played 90 minutes more than Didier Deschamps' team due to their accumulated extra-time workload.

"But knockout football is fine margins and when you have spells in the game and when you have chances against real quality, you've got to make them count".


"After the experiences of the matches with Colombia and Sweden and the whole thing, it's probably beyond where we thought we might be able to go, so tonight in the end, we weren't quite there. We left everything out there".

Kieran Trippier's maiden global goal fired England ahead early in Moscow, but Ivan Perisic levelled in the second half before Mandzukic sent Croatia through to a showdown against France on Sunday. We know we have done people proud by getting this far, but we wanted to go on and win it. "Second half, fair play to Croatia they came out and put the pressure on and we were under the cosh for a little while", the 24-year-old skipper said. Despite the disappointment for England, The Times's expert panel was not short of some trenchant views on the country's most important night for 28 years - or to be precise 10,234 days.

Click through the mini-gallery above to see pictures of Croatia's celebrations after they qualified for the World Cup final!

"Mentally strong team", midfielder Ivan Rakatic said. "And I don't think after the six or seven weeks we have been together, that we could have given more".


Indeed, after getting to the tournament's final four, after reversing a terrible penalty shootout history, in its round-of-16 win over Colombia, there's a sense of optimism in England about this young, talented and appealing team.

"We all feel the pain of the defeat".

Mandzukic's movement was also a constant challenge for England's back three and John Stones, in particular, did not look as composed as he has done in previous games.


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