The Associated Press MOSCOW (AP) — Croatia’s legs seemed heavy, burdened by the accumulated toll of consecutive penalty-kicks wins needed to get this far. England had gone ahead with a free kick just five minutes in, dominated play and appeared headed to its first World Cup final since 1966.
Then the second half started and it was as if a different Croatian team had replaced the lethargic one.
Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute, Mario Mandzukic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th and Croatia shocked England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday that advanced a nation of just over 4 million to a World Cup final against France.
“Mentally strong team,” midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “It’s just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way.”
When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white checkered jerseys. Croatia joined an exclusive club of 13 nations that has advanced to a World Cup final in a tournament where powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain made early exits.
“They’ve had an incredible route to the final. They’ve shown remarkable character,” said England coach Gareth Southgate, who for now will be remembered more for a fashionable waistcoat than ending a half-century of hurt.
France, which won its only title at home in 1998, will have an extra day of rest after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday.