World Cup 2018: How Croatia beat England to reach the final
Coming into Englands biggest game in 28 years all the focus on Croatia was directed at two men: Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
The Real Madrid and Barcelona central midfielders offered the most obvious threat to Gareth Southgates side. Their ability to dictate play, pierce the defence and shoot from distance was rightly highlighted.
However, in the event the damage came from elsewhere.
Croatia are a multi-faceted team packed full of experience – they are far from all about Modric and Rakitic. And in the end it was English nerves, Inter Milans Ivan Perisic and exploitation of space out wide which settled the tie over 120 tense minutes in Moscow.
England had much the better of the first half and went ahead from Kieran Trippiers free-kick, but following the break the mistakes started to creep in and Croatia – who came through extra-time and penalties against Denmark and Russia – began to assert their dominance.
Sime Vrsaljko was a constant threat for Croatia down the right-hand side (Source: Getty)
As Englands wing-backs Ashley Young and Trippier tired and dropped deeper, space was created for Croatias conventional full-backs Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic to move into.
Southgates successful 3-5-2 formation gradually slipped into a flat 5-3-2, and although outside midfielders Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli tried their best to cover, the problem grew and grew.
Modric and Rakitic intelligently kept the ball moving in the middle, while switches of play developed countless overlaps. In the end the pressure told, with right-back Vrsaljko using time and space to swing in a cross, catch Trippier and Kyle Walker cold and allow Perisic to volley in for 1-1.
Minutes later Perisic was smacking the post and opposite winger Ante Rebic was scuffing a presentable rebound into Jordan Pickfords gloves.
Croatias heatmap showed they rarely attempted to reach the byline – but with space to cross from deep they didnt need to. With England panicking, they kept them on the ropes, bombarding the penalty area with crosses – 41 of them in total.
Jesse Lingard did his best, but Croatia kept finding time and space in wide areas (Source: Getty)
The three full-backs – Vrsaljko, Strinic and his replacement Josip Pivaric – managed 17 between them, more than the whole Three Lions side put together.
While the crosses kept coming, Perisic kept improving. The wideman was exceptional and had seven of Croatias 22 shots, with no other player managing more than three.
Having scored and hit the post it was he who headed on for Mario Mandzukic to strike the final hammer blow to Englands chances in extra-time.
From there Croatia didnt drop deep. Fresh legs came from the bench and Zlatko Dalics side pressed and pressed until the final whistle came.
After three consecutive bouts of extra-time, the question will now be if they can keep up such a frenetic energy against France on Sunday.