Bobby Moore’s Bogotá arrest, Maradona’s Hand of God, Gazza’s tears, Beckham’s red card, Ronaldinho’s free-kick, Ronaldo’s wink, Lampard’s non-goal.
And now Mario Mandžukić’s half-volley. Croatia are into their first ever World Cup final and England’s journey is over.
0-1: Trippier 5′
1-1: Perišić 68′
Semi-finals often have nerves, big games are cagy affairs, everything is on a knife-edge until a decisive moment of excellence. England were just fortunate that such a moment came from Kieran Trippier’s right foot just five minutes into the match. England couldn’t have wished for a more perfect start. Before the game had a chance to settle, Trippier had perfectly bent a free-kick into the top corner.
‘The Bury Beckham’ has arguably been England’s best player in this tournament but had managed to live up to his over-the-top nickname yet again.
England have started the game quickly on a number of occasions at this World Cup but this was the first time it led to a deserved early breakthrough. Southgate’s side didn’t let up, either. Playing in a loud Luzhniki Stadium, Croatia looked both nervous and tired after playing extra-time in each of the last two rounds.
Two corners would find Harry Maguire before the Croatians began to calm and have a little possession in the England half.
That didn’t stop the waves of England attacks, though. Croatia struggled with Raheem Sterling’s movement and trickery. It was Sterling who put Harry Kane through on goal in the 29th minute but the World Cup’s top goalscorer missed twice. First denied by Danijel Subasić, Kane darted onto the rebound but struck the post from a tight angle just two yards.
It was the one final warning Croatia needed to spark into action. Just minutes after Kane’s miss, Ante Rebić fired a dangerous ball across the box and had a half-decent effort saved by Jordan Pickford. The Frankfurt winger came again but was superbly tackled by Ashley Young just as he looked to get a shot away from the right-hand side of the box.
Two more Croatia attacks came before the break but Ivan Rakitić was halted by Kyle Walker and referee Cüneyt Çakır waved away a late Croatian penalty appeal to blow for half-time.
Croatia huffed and puffed early in the second but England’s three central defenders cleared everything as endless crosses came into the box. One had to lead to something eventually and it looked like Ivan Perišić may equalise when a John Stones clearance landed with him at the edge of the area. Perišić’s first effort was blocked by Kyle Walker and his second bite of the cherry denied by a Jesse Lingard challenge. He wouldn’t be denied a third time.
Found by a raking ball to the far post, the winger leapt to poke the ball beyond Jordan Pickford. Trippier and Walker were left completely unaware at the far post and Croatia found themselves level.
The wave of positivity England had been riding all tournament was abruptly punctured and Croatia were suddenly the side in the ascendency. Within three minutes they could have been ahead – England were again sloppy at the back and a Stones clearance again fell to Perišić. This time the Inter Milan man darted past Walker with a quick step-over and fired the ball across goal only to strike the base of the post. A lifeline for Southgate and his players.
The England boss responded instantly, turning to his bench to replace Raheem Sterling with Marcus Rashford but that move didn’t add the calmness England were screaming out for and Croatia continued to look the better side against a nervy England. Pickford and his defenders invited pressure as doubt crept in and the game crept towards extra-time. Croatia – who had played extra-time in the last 16 and the quarter-final – looked desperate to finish it within 90 minutes.
It would, though, be another half an hour for those heavy legs.
Before long each side had to make a change, with Ivan Strinić and Jordan Henderson replaced by Josip Pavarić and Eric Dier respectively. The pause for air between full-time and extra-time saw England relax and they looked stronger again early on in the extra 30 minutes, with Vrsjalko clearing a John Stones header from the line.
But Croatia came back and forced Pickford into a world class stop on the brink of half-time in extra-time. Perišić swung a low ball into the box but Pickford was off his line quickly to deny Mandžukić at the near post.
Mandžukić wouldn’t be denied with 10 minutes remaining. England’s defenders thought they had cleared danger but Perišić – so often the thorn in their side – flicked a header on to his onrushing striker. Stones was caught flat-footed and Mandžukić struck low and hard into the far corner.
Jamie Vardy was called upon before England lost Trippier to injury and had to see out the final moments with just 10 men. It wasn’t enough for England, who failed to create a chance to score and send the game to penalties.
A famous comeback sends Croatia into their first ever World Cup football. For England, 52 years of hurt goes on.
Man of the match: Ivan Perišić (Croatia)
After a quiet first half, Perišić drove Croatia on. Scored the equaliser, assisted the winner, and sent 27-year-old nation into its first ever World Cup final.
England had no idea how to deal with him after the break and their failure to come up with an answer is what cost them their place on Sunday.
What happens next?
It’s back to Moscow on Sunday, where Croatia will meet France in the World Cup final.
The day before, England will take on Belgium in the third-place match in Saint Petersburg.