England denied final appearance

Gary Cahill and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both remained on the bench as the third World Cup semi-final in England’s history ended in narrow defeat.

The Three Lions took an early lead at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and enjoyed the better of the first half, but conceded an equaliser midway through the second half as the balance of play shifted. In extra-time it was Croatia who found the way through to goal and 2-1 was the way it finished.

England’s set-piece prowess has been one of the features of this World Cup and it was in evidence again when Kieran Trippier netted directly from a free-kick in only the fifth minute, clearing the Croatian wall and finding the top corner with a perfectly directed effort.

The Three Lions, whose impressive World Cup campaign has been jointly marshalled by our former assistant coach Steve Holland, controlled most of the rest of the first half, looking poised to do damage on the break when Croatia pushed forward. There was the odd speculative effort from England’s opponents but also defensive slip-ups, with the offside flag ending a chance to capitalise on the worst misplaced pass.

Harry Kane could have made it 2-0 on half-an-hour but one-on-one with Danijel Subasic, the striker hit the Croatian keeper. Jessie Lingard also shot wide but Gareth Southgate’s side could be happy with their first-half performance, and satisfied with a one-goal lead at the break.

Croatia, as was always likely, improved but it was two defences largely on top for the first half of the second period of normal time. Kyle Walker bravely blocked one thunderous drive from Ivan Perisic midway through the half but the Inter Milan man had his moment against the Man City defender soon after when he equalised, getting his foot to a cross ahead of his marker.

Soon after, Perisic hit the post and Croatia wasted the rebound, but for the first time they were clearly on top.

England looked to be steadying the ship when Lingard flashed a shot across goal, but then Jordan Pickford was called upon to make two saves. He was successful, so just as in Italia ’90, England’s semi-final went to extra-time.

Halfway through the first period, England came close to making another corner in this tournament count but Croatia had a player in the right place on the line to clear John Stones’ header. Then, on the stroke of the interval, Mario Mandzukic looked set to score the potentially decisive goal but he was denied by a brave Pickford save.

However early in the second period, Mandzukic had his second opportunity when he nipped in behind John Stones and this time he did make England pay.

So it is left to our France pair, N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud, to represent Chelsea in the World Cup final, when they take on Croatia back in the Luzhniki on Sunday. On Saturday, England play Belgium in the third/fourth place play-off.