England ahead after dominant half of attacking display

A perfect free-kick from Kieran Trippier had put England ahead in the fifth minute and it held onto the lead until half-time.

The Croatia wall jumps in an attempt to block Kieran Trippier's inch-perfect free-kick.   -  AFP

In the consecrated grass of the Luzhniki Stadium, which will see the new world champion in four nights from now, it was a chance for the two teams to exorcise their semifinals demons. While Croatia’s only last four run ended with a defeat to France – the host and eventual champion – in 1998, England’s 1990 semifinals started its penalty shootout heartbreaks – a hoodoo that had chased them for five senior international tournaments and 28 years. The Three Lions finally won the game of nerves in the last-16 of this World Cup against Colombia.     

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Zlatko Dalic, looking for more attacking threat from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic changed his system from the last match, bringing in Marcelo Brozovic to play as the screen ahead of his defence. But England, as expected, went unchanged with Gareth Southgate reposing faith in his players and tactics.

And England was ahead in the fifth minute of play with Kieran Trippier bending one over the Croatian wall – much like a vintage David Beckham – and past a doomed Danijel Subasic after Mordic had unnecessarily hacked Dele Alli just outside the box. Harry Maguire, after scoring his first international goal the other night, was keen to again try his luck but his header, this time, from a Alli corner harmlessly bounced wide. The attacking vim of this young English side, however, did its job leaving the older Croatians rattled, seemingly unable to find a way out.

Harry Kane – still the tournament’s top scorer – missed twice, first failing to beat Subasic from close range after a cute Jesse Lingard pass. The rebound, too, came his way but the post stood there to deny him the chance.  

Faced with such repeated onslaught, Craotia’s collective game suffered with Modric and Rakitic – their two best players – failing to exert little influence on the match.  The duo, however, combined in the 32nd minute stringing a intricate labyrinth of passes that allowed Ante Rebic to try a left-footed curler from the top of the box. The strike, however, was easily gathered by Jordan Pickford.

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