Croatia reach World Cup final as England pain goes on

Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute. (Reuters)
Updated 12 July 2018

Croatia reach World Cup final as England pain goes on

  • “We deserved the victory,” said match-winner Mandzukic

MOSCOW: Croatia reached the first World Cup final in their young history on Wednesday, prolonging England’s decades of pain as they set up a decider against France with a 2-1 win.
Luka Modric’s team fell behind in just the fifth minute but hit back through Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic to win a tense contest in front of 78,000 fans in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
In beating Gareth Southgate’s young team, Croatia — taken to extra-time for a third consecutive match — have surpassed the achievements of the heroes of 1998, who reached the semifinals in France.
The defeat will be difficult to digest for England, who have won many admirers for their run to the semifinals and must have felt they were on the verge of the final when they were in front.
“We deserved the victory,” said match-winner Mandzukic.
Trippier gave England a dream start, curling in a free-kick from 25 yards past the despairing dive of Danijel Subasic after Dele Alli was brought down in a central position.
The goal continued the side’s astonishing success from set-pieces at the World Cup — they scored nine goals from set-pieces — the most by any team in a single tournament since 1966.
England, playing with zip and purpose, looked sharp going forward as a rattled Croatia side tried to regroup, with Raheem Sterling proving a real handful but the score remained 1-0 at the break.
Croatia started the find their range as the second half wore on and Perisic levelled for Croatia in the 68th minute, nipping ahead of Kyle Walker to steer home Sime Vrsaljko’s cross past a diving Jordan Pickford.
Suddenly the massed ranks of red-and-white-clad Croatia fans behind Pickford’s goal started to believe and shortly afterwards Perisic hit the post but England somehow clung on to take the game into extra-time.
As the extra period started Croatia struggled to maintain their intense pressure but continued to threaten the England defense.
But Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute, sweeping the ball low past Pickford after Perisic’s header back into the area caught the England defense on the hop.
England players collapsed on the pitch, distraught as the Croatians and their fans celebrated wildly, .
“We’re gutted,” said Harry Kane, still on course to finish as the tournament’s top goalscorer with six strikes in Russia.
“It hurts, it hurts a lot. It’s going to hurt for a while of course. We can hold our heads up high. It’s been a fantastic journey. We got further than anyone else could thought we would have.”
“It’s been great to get to this stage and we know we’ve done everyone proud but we wanted to go on and win it. We thought we were just good enough, we thought we could have done that. But we’ve fallen just a bit short. It hurts. I don’t know what else to say. It hurts.”
France reached the final for the third time in their history on Tuesday when a second-half header from Samuel Umtiti gave the 1998 champions a 1-0 victory against Belgium in Saint Petersburg.
The win sent tens of thousands of French people pouring onto the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris in scenes of joy last seen when France won the World Cup two decades ago.
In delirious scenes in Paris, fans let off fire crackers and released smoke flares.
Despite the much-vaunted attack of teenager Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, France’s defense proved the difference as they shut down Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku and they showed they will be hard to beat on Sunday.
France coach Didier Deschamps said he was delighted to have the chance to bury the pain of the Euro 2016 final, which his side lost on home soil to Portugal.
“Finals have to be won because we have still not got over the one we lost two years ago,” he said.
It was a painful defeat for Belgium, foiled at the semifinal for the second time in their history, as the clock ticks on their so-called “golden generation” of players.
Hazard shone at times but Kevin De Bruyne was quiet and Manchester United striker Lukaku was a shadow of the player he had been earlier in the tournament, even though Belgium enjoyed most of the possession.


Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

Updated 38 min 37 sec ago

Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

  • Michael Mmoh of USA and Ammar Al-Haqbani of Saudi Arabia to play
  • Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars

RIYADH: Two of the most exciting Saudi-born tennis stars will go head-to-head when in a showpiece exhibition match as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco.

Michael Mmoh (USA) and Ammar Al-Haqbani (KSA) – both 21 – will compete in front of an eager home crowd ahead of the final match of the $3 million tournament that has attracted eight of the world’s best players and the eyes of world tennis.

The special exhibition match will take place at 2pm Saturday, December 14th at the Diriyah Arena ahead of the final’s day of the Kingdom’s inaugural international tennis event.  

Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars, including three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, big-hitting US champion John Isner, and 2019’s most exciting breakthrough player, Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

American Michael Mmoh said: “I can’t wait to be coming back to Saudi Arabia and play in front of the local fans. It’s going to be a very special experience for me. 

“Having some of the best players in the world coming to the Kingdom can really inspire new fans to pick up a racquet and get on a court for the first time and play this great game.”

Ammar echoed that view, saying: “The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will have a significant impact on tennis in Saudi, especially for local tennis lovers and young talents who want to be professionals.

“Watching closely as these big names compete at the Diriyah Arena will be a huge inspiration for them to work more and build their professional path  in order to compete on the global stage in the future.”

Named after basketball icon Michael Jordan, Michael Mmoh was born in Riyadh; his father Tony – who peaked at world number 105 – Nigerian, who was a former Saudi-Arabian Davis Cup captain, and his mother from Ireland but an Australian citizen. When leaving the Kingdom aged 13, Michael’s first big move within the tennis world was, when he enrolled in the prestigious IMG Academy student-athlete school in Bradenton (Florida).

That decision and the hard work that followed paid off, with Michael climbing his way to world number two in the junior rankings. By 2018, he had broken into the Top 100 men’s players worldwide. Injury hampered his 2019, but it’s a year he hopes to end with a bang at Ad Diriyah as he closes back in on the Top 100 and seeks to add to his sixth ATP Challenger Tour titles in 2020.

His opponent Ammar Haqbani has followed just as interesting a path. One of three tennis-playing children of US-based Saudi diplomat Faleh Haqbani, Ammar started his tennis career aged five years old. He participated in his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition three years later, later scaling the heights to become the seventh best player on the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section standings, and 135th globally in the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ranking.

Ammar is a leader in the Saudi national team in the Davis Cup since 2015 and has been a dominant figure in GCC regional tournaments for seven years. He was also the first Saudi Arabian player to win a gold medal in an international tennis competition.

Held on the outskirts of Riyadh, the three-day Diriyah Cup tournament will welcome eight leading ATP players: Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland), John Isner (USA), Daniil Medvedev (Russia), David Goffin (Belgium), the Frenchmen Gaël Monfils and Lucas Pouille (France), Fabio Fognini (Italy), and Jan-Lennard Struff from Germany.

The Cup is one of several sporting spectacles taking place as part of the Kingdom’s 2019 Diriyah Season festival, which has already featured the Clash of the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Its 15,000-seater venue is set upon the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ad Diriyah, where the ancient mud-wall city will offer a breath-taking backdrop for three-days of hard-court tennis.