MOSCOW — England and France. The two youngest teams in the World Cup, destined to meet in the final after a parade of greater soccer nations with veteran stars had gone home. France did its part Tuesday by beating Belgium, a more experienced side loaded with talent, and five minutes into Wednesday’s match against Croatia, England was following the same script. For the second straight game, an English player scored his first international goal in a World Cup knockout match, this time Kieran Trippier sending a sweet free kick into Croatia’s net.
Surely youth would win out, especially with Croatia ragged from running a gantlet of two straight shootouts. Except somehow, the Croats took control against their youthful foes and kept getting stronger, tying it with an inspired volley from Ivan Perisic and sucker-punching the English with a sudden strike from Mario Mandzukic in the second period of extra time. The whistle blew and the Croats suddenly forgot their exhaustion, mobbing their coach, jumping into their fans’ arms and playing on the pitch with their kids as Moscow’s main stadium emptied out.
Croatia and France. A team of “hardened warriors,” in the words of England’s coach, against a scintillating young French side, destined to meet in the final of a World Cup that has utterly refused to follow any script.
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