World Cup Recap: Semi-final 2

Croatia outmuscles England to reach their first World Cup Final

Mario Mandzukic of Croatia celebrates after scoring his team's second goal with Ivan Perisic during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Semi Final match between England and Croatia. Dan Mullan/Getty Images

The semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup concluded on Wednesday with the second spot to be decided between the winner of Croatian and England. A battle between two of the surprise teams of the tournament would decide who would face France for the richest prize in international football.

Croatia 2-1 England (after extra time)

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Attendance: 78,011

England could not have hoped for a better start. After five minutes, the Three Lions had the lead thanks to a curling free kick from Kieran Trippier. Trippier almost helped England extend the lead by connecting with Harry Maguire on a corner that just went wide. Harry Kane also had a good chance in the 30th minute where he may have taken an extra touch too long and had the rebound get denied by the post. Croatia also had an opportunity late in the first half but, for the most part, England was the winner of the half.

After playing two-straight matches of 120 minutes plus penalties, it looked as though England would manage out the lead but Croatia flipped the switch and hit another gear. It all culminated with Ivan Perisic’s tying goal in the 68th minute, and the Inter Milan almost had the winning goal when he was denied by the post just five minutes after. England were able to fight off the Vatreni and the match ended 1-1 in regulation.

Both teams had good chances in the first period of extra time but the decider would be scored in the second extra time period. It was the experienced Mario Mandzukic that found space inside the box to notch home the winning goal in the 109th minute. England were down to ten men as well as Trippier could not continue due to injury and the manager had used all his substitutions. Croatia would see out the 2-1 to advance to their first World Cup final.

Croatia advances to their first final ever

Croatia have shocked everyone, going the distance in three consecutive matches to secure their best finish at the FIFA World Cup. Led by some of the World’s most talented midfielders in Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and FC Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, Croatia are now one win away from glory. Modric, individually, is on one of the most impressive year’s by a player after already having won the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid just before Russia 2018. Should Croatia win, he’ll be the odd-on-favorite to be named the FIFA Player of the Year. Despite France being the favorite on Sunday, no one can dare count out Croatia after the way they have arrived at the final.

England’s Cinderella run takes a detour to the third place match

There was little expectations for this England team heading into the tournament so no one can consider them a failure. For the English, however, the loss will hurt because you never know when you’ll get this close to the final again. This young England team certainly be looked at to have a good chance to do that at the next World Cup. They’ll also carry higher expectations at the Euro 2020 because of what they have done in this tournament. The challenge now will be to not meddle in the work of the Manager, Gareth Southgate, and allow him to do things his way as he works with this England squad.

Notable stat: Croatia is the first team to avoid defeat after three straight extra time matches at the World Cup.

Programming notes:

Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis will be broadcasting from The Gorgeous Gael (5555 Morningside Dr. Houston, TX 77005) with a two-hour LIVE show, airing on ESPN 97.5 FM, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Blitz will be broadcasting from the Hyatt Regency Houston/Galleria (2626 Sage Rd, Houston, Texas 77056) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Former Houston Dynamo forward and a member of the U.S. national team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Brian Ching, will be a guest on the show.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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