Croatia 2-1 England (AET)
11 July 2018, 21:00 local (19:00 UK)
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
World Cup semi final
The UFWC title reached the penultimate stage of the FIFA World Cup as reigning Unofficial Football World Champions Croatia played original UFWC champions England. Croatia took the title from Denmark in the round of 16, then beat Russia in the quarter finals – with both wins coming via penalty shoot-outs. England were the first UFWC champions in 1873 – 145 years ago. They beat Colombia in the round of 16 and Sweden in the quarter finals to set up this clash. As a reminder, whoever wins the 2018 World Cup final will unify the UFWC and FIFA titles and become undisputed unofficial and official football world champions.
Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia side boasts one of the best midfields at this World Cup, centred around two of the tournament’s best players – Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic played on either side of Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic, with Modric in a slightly more advanced role behind striker Mario Mandzukic. Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren marshalled the centre of defence, with Ivan Strinic and Sime Vrsaljko – recovered from injury – at full back. The impressive Danijel Subasic played in goal.
They faced a young, bright England team, which has shed much of the baggage accumulated by the national side in recent years. Led by Harry Kane, who leads the golden boot charge with six goals, Gareth Southgate’s team has a fresh feel. Raheem Sterling plays nearest to Kane, stretching defences with his pace, and forcing opponents to play deep. Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Jordan Henderson are the midfield three, with Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young covering plenty of ground and putting in crosses from the wing back positions. Harry Maguire has impressed alongside John Stones and Kyle Walker at the back. And in Jordan Pickford England have the most talked-about young goalkeeper at the tournament.
England struck first in this game. Lingard was fouled in Croatia’s D, and Trippier struck a wonderful free kick with his right foot into the top corner of Subasic’s net. 1-0 to England with less than five minutes on the clock. England should have increased their lead as they dominated the first half, most notably through Kane, who saw two shots blocked by Subasic.
Croatia found an extra gear in the second half, and were rewarded in the 68th minute when Vrsaljko’s teasing cross was won by the foot of Perisic, who poked home from close range. Perisic could have finished things five minutes later, but his low shot hit the far post and came back out. It was 1-1 after 90 minutes, and the game went into extra time.
The first half of extra time was pretty even, with Stones seeing a header from a corner cleared off the line, and Mandzukic having an attempt bravely blocked by Pickford. But in the second half Croatia again shifted up a gear. The breakthrough cam in the 109th minute, when Perisic slid the ball through to Mandzukic, who struck it on the turn past Pickford and into the net. It was the match-winner, and Croatia, the Unofficial Football World Champions, made it through to their first ever World Cup final.
Croatia will play France in the final on Sunday, when the UFWC and FIFA title will be unified, and the winner will become the undisputed unofficial and official football world champions. France have actually held the undisputed title twice. They won it at the World Cup in 1998, then regained it outside of the World Cup in 2000. They’ve won 25 UFWC title matches, but none since 2001. We’ll have more on this in coming days.
New for 2018,the latest edition of the official UFWC book, Unofficial Football World Champions.
This is the fourth edition of the book that has been published in every World Cup year since 2006. Expanded and updated to include new matches, teams, players and statistics, it’s a complete guide to the UFWC, including all 936 title matches played since 1872, and all 48 unofficial football world champions.
It’s available exclusively from Amazon stores worldwide, priced at £9.99 or $13.95 – click here.