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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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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