Croatia produced a comeback of heroic proportions to beat England 2-1 in extra time on Wednesday and reach the World Cup final, an unreal feat for such a small country. Zlatko Dalic's men were lucky to be just one goal behind at half-time; as they came back with a much stronger and more dynamic performance, they had England on the ropes after levelling the score, but failed to finish the job. Still, they somehow found it within themselves to score in their third extra-time period in as many matches.
Again, psychology played a major role here; trailing at the break, Croatia came back like a team possessed and pumped up the volume to win. They were a completely different team after Ivan Perisic scored, took control and dominated up until the final whistle.
By any standard, the first 45 minutes were subpar. The defence was shaky, the midfield stifled and the attack isolated. The left-back position is still very much a weak link.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Sometimes not changing anything at all is the hardest thing to do. Dalic's initial plan might not have been bulletproof, but he took note and surely gave different instructions to players in key areas; to full-backs to be more aggressive and more frequently overlap with wingers, to Luka Modric to take more initiative and move his field of operation a little further up the field. And he didn't make a single sub in 90 minutes, leaving the lads to ride on the momentum.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Danijel Subasic, 8 -- Wasn't seriously challenged too many times, but his interventions were timely and confident.
DF Sime Vrsaljko, 9 -- Wasn't even supposed to play due to injury, but somehow the doctors made him available. And what a performance it was; dangerous offensively, assisting on Perisic's goal with a sharp cross, responsible defensively.
DF Dejan Lovren, 9 -- Excellent in the air, dominant in challenges, a rock in defence. Took better control of his temper this time as well.
DF Domagoj Vida, 9 -- Produced numerous clearances and interventions, frustrating the English attackers. Despite pressure from those in the crowd who booed him, he remained calm.
DF Ivan Strinic, 5 -- Being aware of his weak-link status, Strinic was given time and space on the ball, but he didn't do much with it. Particularly poor at crossing and seemed bereft of confidence.
MF Marcelo Brozovic, 8 -- After a subpar first half when he had some unforced errors and failed to bring the desired balance in midfield, he also improved his performance dramatically, winning balls and producing sharp passes.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Not as productive or creative as he was in most previous games at the tournament, but won some important balls in midfield.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Dropped too deep to have a decisive impact in the first half and his creativity was pretty much stifled; took more control and initiative after the break, dictating play. Always a leader on the pitch.
FW Ante Rebic, 8 -- Hardworking, fearless and very aggressive, perhaps too much, in his efforts to provide some much-needed directness. Was a constant threat and always kept England's defence on their toes.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 8 -- Isolated up front, too far from the action, but still trying to do his workload and exerting himself physically. And then he scored the winner. A genuinely gritty performance from a genuinely gritty player, a specialist for the big games and decisive moments.
FW Ivan Perisic, 8 -- The worst performer on the pitch for 68 minutes; completely ineffective and fairly easy to stop on the wing, while not helping out much in the press. Then he scored. Then he almost added another, denied by the post, and in extra time he assisted for Mandzukic's goal, generously making up for everything.
DF Josip Pivaric, 7 -- Came on for the injured Strinic in extra time, improving on his performance in both directions.
FW Andrej Kramaric, N/R -- Came on for Rebic in extra time.
DF Vedran Corluka, N/R -- Came on for Mandzukic in extra time .
MF Milan Badelj, N/R -- Came on for Modric in extra time.