England’s World Cup dream is over but Gareth Southgate’s team will still return as heroes after pushing Croatia all the way in Moscow.
The Three Lions defied all expectations to reach the last four and will soon be able to take the positives from their Russian adventure once the fresh wounds have healed.
England had never won a penalty shootout in a World Cup before 2018 and they laid that ghost to rest in their nail-biting triumph over Colombia.
But the wait for another World Cup final appearance to follow the 1966 win goes on after this heartbreaking 2-1 defeat after extra-time at the Luznikhi Stadium.
Captain Harry Kane said: “The fans were amazing, it was a tough game. We worked as hard as we could. It hurts a lot, it is going to hurt for a while.
“It’s been a fantastic journey, we got a lot further than anyone thought we would. It’s small margins – it went their way today.”
“We wanted more. We wanted to give the fans here and at home a final but we go again in a couple of years.”
Manager Gareth Southgate was proud of the performance despite watching his team fall just short in Russia and saluted England’s supporters who stayed behind at full-time to thank the squad.
He said: “The biggest thing is – you saw the supporters. I can’t ask any more than what the players and staff have given.”
“We are where we are as a team. We’ve come an incredible way in a short space of time. The experience of matches with Colombia, Sweden, is probably beyond where we thought we’d be able to go. Tonight, we weren’t quite there. The team will be stronger for that.”
Some England fans had barely even taken their seats when Kieran Trippier bent it like Beckham to send England into dreamland.
There was no reaction from Southgate as he refused to get swept away in the euphoria in the stands in Moscow and in the pubs across the nation back home.
Kane and Jesse Lingard both had glorious chances to extend England’s advantage but the lead remained at just a single goal as the teams headed in at the break.
The travelling Three Lions supporters were hoping those missed chances would not come back to bite them.
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Croatia tried to draw England into a more physical match in the second period as the game became scrappy and tempers started to flare.
There were still moments of quality from the Three Lions though and Kane was a whisker away from adding a second from Trippier’s sensational delivery.
At the other end, Kyle Walker heroically put his body on the line to block Ivan Perisic’s shot from the edge of the area.
But he was caught out moments later when the Inter Milan winger got in front of him to stab home the equaliser.
Perisic was a thorn in the side of the Three Lions and only the woodwork prevented him turning the game on its head putting Croatia in front.
England were looking ragged at the back and the game appearing to be slipping away, so it was incredibly something of a relief to have a breather before extra-time was played.
John Stones had Three Lions fans on their feet when he powered a header goalwards, only for Sime Vrsaljko to find himself in the right place at the right time to clear off the line.
It would have been game over for England had Pickford not brilliantly rushed out to tackle Mario Mandzukic when he was just about to pull the trigger.
But the Juventus hitman was not to be denied and he had the last word by capitalising on some sloppy England defending to nip in and grab the winner.
The long wait for football to come home continues and it is Croatia who go on to face France in the final in Moscow on Sunday.
To everyone who supported us.
To everyone who believed this time was different.
To everyone who wasn't afraid to dream.
To everyone who knows this is only the beginning.
— England (@England) July 11, 2018
Trippier the shining light for England in Russia
How quickly did he turn into England’s player of the tournament?
Kane may have earned the plaudits because of his goalscoring exploits, but his Tottenham team-mate is the World Cup wildcard who shone.
Not just man of the match for his remarkable free-kick in Moscow, the boy from Bury became competition’s best right-back thanks to his another gutsy and determined display.
For a player who only became an international at the tender age of 26 last year, he has a long career ahead of him and will surely come back stronger after this setback.
He was carried off with a groin injury in extra time and many England fans would have happily carried him on their shoulders after another brave performance.
A nation is heartbroken by late drama
England came to a standstill, with shops prematurely emptied of supplies and left deserted post-kick, as fans gathered in pubs and public spaces to watch what could have been such a famous night.
Rush hour resembled most a post-apocalyptic film set more than the usual logistical, ill-tempered ordeal, with dead streets and silent public transport. The silence would soon be broken.
— Carlo Angerer (@carloangerer) July 11, 2018
Trippier sent supporters into reverie when his early free kick broke the deadlock, with those in Hyde Park – where thousands of fans had gathered in anticipation – launching pints glasses into the air.
— Nisha Joshi (@NishaJoshi87) July 11, 2018
With nerves fraying, Perisic’s equaliser left England fans sick with nerves ahead of thrilling finale. Despite the hope, the support and the efforts of England’s players, hopes were dashed by Mandzukic’s sickening winner.
It's all too much for some England fans 😢 pic.twitter.com/ur9cSwaTmi
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 11, 2018
Key match facts
England have now been eliminated in four of their five semi-finals at major tournaments, losing each of the last four in a row (Euro 1968 v Yugoslavia, World Cup 1990 v Germany, Euro 1996 v Germany and World Cup 2018 v Croatia).
Croatia have qualified for their first ever World Cup final in their fifth appearance at the World Cup finals.
England have lost three competitive games against Croatia (3) since the turn of the Millennium, more than any against any other nation.
Mario Mandzukic’s winning goal was the latest goal ever conceded by England in a World Cup match (108:03).
Kieran Trippier became the first player to score a direct free-kick for England at the World Cup since David Beckham in 2006 (against Ecuador).
Ivan Perisic has been involved in 10 goals at major tournaments for Croatia (6 goals, 4 assists), the joint-most, level with Davor Suker (9 goals, 1 assist).
Kieran Trippier’s goal after 4 minutes and 44 seconds was the fastest goal scored in a World Cup semi-final since 1958 (Vava after two minutes for Brazil v France).
Croatia became the first team to play extra-time in three consecutive World Cup matches since England in 1990.
England scored nine goals from set pieces at the 2018 World Cup – the most by a team in a single World Cup tournament since 1966.
Four of the five 2018 World Cup matches to go to extra-time have involved either England or Croatia (the other was Spain v Russia).