National News

Croatia stun England to reach Cup final

Croatia's legs seemed heavy, burdened by the accumulated toll of consecutive penalty-kicks wins needed to get this far.

England had gone ahead with a free kick just five minutes in, dominated play and appeared headed to their first World Cup final since 1966.

Then the second half started and it was as if a different Croatian team had replaced the lethargic one.

Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute, Mario Mandzukic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th and Croatia shocked England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday that advanced a nation of just over four million to a World Cup final against France.

"Mentally strong team," midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. "It's just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way."

When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white chequered jerseys.

Croatia joined an exclusive club of 13 nations who have advanced to a World Cup final in a tournament where powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain made early exits.

"They've had an incredible route to the final. They've shown remarkable character," said England coach Gareth Southgate.

France, who won their only title at home in 1998, will have an extra day of rest after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday.

Croatia, coming off 360 intense minutes of soccer's highest level, face their biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991.

Fans back home in Zagreb took to the streets to celebrate, lighting flares and waving flags in a sea of exuberance.

"We are a nation of people who never give in, who are proud and who have character," said coach Zlatko Dalic, who wore a checkered jersey in his post-match news conference. "There's no weakness in a team that is in the final."

England were not among the top 10 in ticket sales before the tournament, but the team's progress caused gallivanting supporters to flock to Moscow.

Promise seemed about to be fulfilled when Kieran Trippier curled in a free kick in the fifth minute for his first international goal, leaping above Dejan Lovren and Mandzukic and past the desperate dive of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.

"We had a couple chances after that to get the second, give ourselves a bit more breathing room," England captain Harry Kane said.

And Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko kept the score even nine minutes into extra time by clearing John Stones' header off a corner just in front of the goal line.

"Impossible to say anything to them that is going to make them feel better at this point," Southgate said after fourth straight loss in a major semifinal.

Mandzukic scored the winner with a low, left-footed shot past Jordan Pickford.

He was mobbed by teammates who jumped on him in the corner and trapped photographers under them in the crush.

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