Mario Mandzukic struck an extra-time winner as Croatia defeated England 2-1 on Wednesday to advance to the World Cup final for the first time in the country’s history.
Kieran Trippier’s maiden international 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.
With a population of just over four million, Croatia are the smallest nation to reach the final since Uruguay, the winners of the 1950 tournament.
AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from Croatia’s victory over England:
EXTRA TIME HANDS FRANCE FURTHER ADVANTAGE
With the bonus of any extra day’s rest and Croatia having been taken to extra-time for the third time in succession, France will be far the fresher of the two sides in Sunday’s final.
Following a clinical 1-0 win over Belgium in Tuesday’s semifinal, Didier Deschamps’s men have played a staggering 90 fewer minutes than their opponents in the knockout rounds. Croatia, who were beaten in extra-time by Portugal at Euro 2016, became just the second team to go to extra-time in three consecutive World Cup games.
However unlike England at the 1990 tournament, it was again third time lucky thanks to Mario Mandzukic’s 109th-minute goal.
TRIPPIER GIVES WEIGHT TO BECKHAM COMPARISON
Former Manchester City reject Kieran Trippier, who grew up idolising David Beckham, conjured up an act of brilliance reminiscent of the former England captain.
Only Neymar and Kevin De Bruyne have rivalled Trippier in terms of chances created at the World Cup, and the Tottenham defender produced his champagne moment of a breakout tournament for the 27-year-old with England’s opening goal.
Trippier’s curling fifth-minute free-kick was his first international goal, a prominent example of the quality of his delivery that has given rise to the “Bury Beckham” moniker, because he was born in Bury near Manchester.
It was England’s first goal scored directly from a free-kick at the World Cup since Beckham’s winner against Ecuador in 2006, and the team’s 12th goal of the competition – surpassing the 11 they netted en route to lifting the trophy 1966.
CROATIA’S TURN TO BREAK DOWN BARRIERS
England coach Gareth Southgate had spoken of his young side “breaking down barriers” in Russia after their biggest World Cup win and first penalty shootout triumph, but it was Croatia who forced their way into a relatively closed shop as just the 13th different country to progress to the final in 88 years.
Spain, the 2010 champions, were the last first-time finalists in what is now the 21st edition of the competition.
It is an achievement all the more remarkable for a country with a population of little more than four million.
Only Uruguay – who lifted the inaugural title in 1930, and again in 1950 – has a smaller population among all World Cup finalists