Last Updated: 2018-07-12
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By Michael Place

MOSCOW, July 12 (NNN-XINHUA) -- Mario Mandzukic struck a dramatic extra-time goal as Croatia clinched a place in their first World Cup final with a 2-1 victory over England here Wednesday.

The Juventus forward prompted jubilant scenes in the Croatia camp by ghosting in behind England's defence and lashing a first-time shot past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

England had taken an early lead courtesy of a Kieran Trippier free-kick before Ivan Perisic showed great athleticism to fire in a second-half equalizer.

Croatia will now meet France in the final on Sunday and they are already guaranteed their best ever World Cup finish, bettering their third placing in 1998.

The result marked the third consecutive match that Croatia have won either in extra time or on penalties, a feat hailed by coach Zlatko Dalic.

"What the players did today, the strength, energies levels, was incredible," Dalic said. "I wanted to make substitutions but nobody would come off. I have to tip my hat to our medical staff and doctors. Some players played with minor injuries today - ones that would rule them out of other games. Two played with half a leg. But nobody wanted to be subbed and they didn't give in. That makes me proud."

England manager Gareth Southgate admitted Croatia were "stronger and more experienced" but praised his team's achievement in becoming the first England team since 1990 to reach the last four of the World Cup.

"It's impossible to say anything to the players that will make them feel better," Southgate said. "I don't think when people look at the experience of the past 18 months that people expected us to be in the semifinals of the World Cup.

"But having made it this far we thought we could win. They [the players] have to go through big match experiences to win. If you look at successful teams, some of them haven't had success the first time. You have to use experiences to your benefit and become a stronger team."

As expected, Southgate chose an unchanged lineup from the one which beat Colombia on penalties and defeated Sweden.

Croatia brought in Inter Milan midfielder Marcelo Brozovic to sit in front of the back four, with Hoffenheim attacker Andrej Kramaric relegated to the bench. The move allowed Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to push further forward, with Perisic and Ante Rebic providing width on the wings. -- NNN-XINHUA