Croatia vs England: Croats harness England's mental fragility

England's dreams of winning a second World Cup were ended by Croatia, which progressed to the final with a 2-1 victory.

England will be disappointed to have not made the most of its first-half dominance.   -  Croatia

Croatia reached Sunday's final courtesy of a 2-1 win over England in the second semifinal. Goals from Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic cancelled out Kieran Trippier's beautiful free-kick to put England ahead after just five minutes.

Here, Sportstar looks at the major talking points from the match.

England 1 3 Croatia

No, not the match score, but the number of halves each of these sides had the better of.

England was dominant in the first half and had scored a goal too, to justify its dominance. But then, for all its dominance even after Kieran Trippier's perfect free-kick, it lacked a second goal to give itself the cushion of two goals. Harry Kane had a wonderful chance to double England's advantage after receiving a pass from Jesse Lingard and, on most days, will have scored from the position he was in. But he didn't score even after having two bites of the cherry.

Croatia made a strong finish to the first half, with Ivan Rakitic letting England off the hook by dallying on the ball in the penalty area... rather unnecessarily.

Read: Mandzukic powers Croatia to summit clash

After the break, though, the Croats were vastly better in every aspect. They moved the ball quickly, upped the overall tempo and were direct. England lacked composure and experience to cope with the change in momentum and completely lost control of proceedings.

Ivan Perisic connected well with a Sime Vrsaljko's cross that Kyle Walker failed to defend to level the score midway through the second half. And Mario Mandzukic's clever movement and tireless running were rewarded with what proved to be the winner on 109 minutes.

Croatia was certainly the better team in three of the four halves of football.

Croatia pounces on England's mental fragility

England did not react well to not getting the second goal in what had been a dominant first half. They didn't pass with purpose towards the end of the half and Harry Maguire summed this up perfectly with his backpass for Jordan Pickford in the 45th minute, when Rakitic nearly scored.

The England defenders continued to play more such passes in the second half and, on another day, will have paid the price for dwelling on the ball, trying to play cute and letting the nerves get the better of them.

ALSO READ: World Cup final a dream come true for Perisic

The first goal came at a time when England seemed to forget how to defend crosses. Walker, the right-sided centre-back, tried to head Vrsaljko's cross away, unaware of the lurking Perisic, who applied a calm finish to pull Croatia level.

And Mandzukic's goal was also a result of static, careless defending from England's back three (Walker, John Stokes and Maguire), all of whom had a forgettable night.

Croatia, to its credit, sensed the unease in its opposition's ranks and pounced on those mistakes to seal its place in the final.

Save of the World Cup?

In the last minute of the first half of extra time, Pickford pulled off arguably the best save of the tournament so far to momentarily deny Mandzukic and Croatia taking the lead.

The reaction, bravery, spreading of the body, and closing down the angle were the keys to making the save when Mandzukic was one-on-one against Pickford. 

England subs fail to impact

Gareth Southgate's substitutions didn't help England's cause once Croatia wrested control of the proceedings.

Marcus Rashford put himself about and tried hard after replacing Raheem Sterling on 74 minutes. But he couldn't make a difference, either with his quick feet or with deliveries from set-piece situations after Trippier had been forced off with an injury.'

VIEW| In pictures: CRO vs ENG

Danny Rose replaced Ashley Young at left wingback at the start of extra time, but he couldn't provide much of an attacking impetus either.

Eric Dier (for Jordan Henderson) and Jamie Vardy (for Kyle Walker) didn't provide match-changing moments and England's response to Croatia taking the lead was meek.

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