Mario Mandzukic ran and ran and ran until he had almost nothing left.
And then there was one more chance, early in the second period of extra time. A ball nodded back in, a tiny gap behind the England defense, and Mandzukic summoned whatever he had left and went for it. The ball fell, Mandzukic beat his man to it and slammed it under Jordan Pickford.
Just like that, Croatia was headed to its first World Cup final, staggering off as 2-1 victors against a young and game England team that rode destiny as far as it would take it but fell on step short of its goal.
It will be Croatia that plays France in Sunday in the World Cup final in Moscow. England will head to St. Petersburg for a rematch with Belgium that neither team wants in the third-place game.
Mandzukic’s goal, after 109 grueling minutes, was Croatia’s second. It was set up by a quick thinking Ivan Perisic, who saw opportunity in a half-clearance and won it for Mandzukic. Perisic had scored Croatia’s first, another opportunistic goal in the 68th minute that caught out England’s defense — younger, faster, but less experienced in big moments — and negated a fifth-minute free kick by Kieran Trippier.
Here’s how Croatia beat England:
FULL TIME: Croatia 2, England 1
England couldn’t make it happen in the closing minutes and Croatia, clearly exhausted, are going to the their first World Cup final.
England somehow wound up with just one shot on goal: the first-half score by Trippier. Of their other 10 shots, six were off target and four were blocked. In contrast, Croatioa fired off 22 shots, getting seven of them on net.