MOSCOW — Rewriting history isn’t supposed to be easy.
But from the moment they arrived at the 2018 World Cup, England’s national soccer team had made it look exactly that. They cruised through the group stage. They breezed into the semifinals. They even found time to cure a deep-seated psychological hangup about penalties with England’s first-ever shootout win at a World Cup. It was as though England had simply decided to cast off the half-century of heartbreak and humiliation its national team had endured in its quest to recapture the World Cup for the first time since 1966.
But 52 years of hurt and the emotional baggage of 50 million people has a way of catching up with you. And in its first semifinal appearance in 28 years, with a place in the World Cup final seemingly within reach, England’s serene progress through this tournament finally came up against an obstacle it couldn’t simply brush aside.
The obstacle in question was Croatia, which clawed its way back from an early deficit to send a gripping semifinal to extra-time, where Mario Mandzukic’s 109th-minute shot into the left corner of the net sealed a 2-1 comeback win that sent Croatia into its first World Cup final and ensured England’s tortured relationship with this trophy will continue. Football is not coming home, after all.
With the victory, Croatia moves on to play France in Sunday’s World Cup final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
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