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
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.
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.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.