Moment of the Day - Super Mario is no joke, as unsuspecting England discover

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Great strikers keep toiling for that one chance; that moment when a defence, perhaps tiring, switches off for a split second. That is all a great striker needs - a split second.

And Mario Manzdukic is a great striker; a multi-title-winning veteran with a penchant for scoring in the big games. A man not for the swagger and swing of a Ronaldo or a Messi; but rather a master of time and space, who chooses his moments well, finding the critical gaps in crowded penalty areas, then shooting with accuracy.

A momentary lapse in concentration in the 109th minute of the World Cup semifinal by the hitherto dominant John Stones was all the Croatian marksman needed to send England home broken hearted.

For much of the semifinal, Mandzukic's efforts were frustrated. He was clearly not one hundred percent fit; troubled by a painful knee.

He had appeared a peripheral figure in his country's grueling quarterfinal penalty shootout victory over hosts Russia, and against England he seemed to be faring only slightly better.

His presence always carrying a faint whiff of menace, but his legs clearly unable to carry him places he needed to be.

In extra-time, he went down painfully after a collision with the bravely onrushing Jordan Pickford, enduring the England goalkeeper's taunts as he lay on the pitch.

He stayed down for longer than most Englishmen deemed proper ... perhaps the wily 32-year-old was buying himself the time and the energy needed for that one momentous effort that would send the English home.

Croatia's entire match had been about conserving themselves, about buying time, about waiting for that moment. It had to be that way after Kieran Trippier's excellent 5th minute free-kick had sent the whole of England into delirium and put Croatia on the back foot.

England fueled by a sense of destiny, Croatia seemingly playing within themselves, adhering perhaps to some secret plan. That was the pattern.

Then Ivan Perisic karate-kicked an equaliser in the 68th minute. It was completely unexpected for those watching with English blinkers on; it was about time, for those who had watched Croatia grow into the game, slowly but relentlessly turning up the heat.

And after that, it was a different ball game. Luka Modric at last began dictating the play; the wide men Peresic and Rebic began finding more space; Rakitic was looking more dangerous. And by the end of the 90 minutes, England were second best; shorn of the conviction they had been playing with.

The Three Lions started extra-time brightly, but they faded again as Croatia showed more nerve, more desire to find the winner.

And then Mandzukic's moment.

A ball awkwardly cleared, a second ball played in over heads, towards Mandzukic. The sudden look of panic on Stones' face as he realized the man on his shoulder was now ahead of him. And then the finish; left-footed, swift, deft, unerring.

While English fans are left to reflect on a debilitating culture of entitlement that insists the ultimate prize is inevitable at the slightest sign of anything better than the ordinary, Croatians - and there are little more than 4-million of them - can look forward to a World Cup Final date with France in Moscow this weekend.