In emotional scenes in Moscow, travelling Three Lions supporters stayed in the stadium until 1am – long after their Croatian counterparts had left – to pay tribute to a team that has grabbed the hearts of a nation.

Jordan Pickford jumped in with the fans to give one his gloves while a heartbroken Gareth Southgate bowed to supporters after they finished a 20-minute long rendition of his cult Atomic Kitten song.

It had all started so well for England. Croatia captain Luka Modric conceded a free kick with a clumsy challenge on Dele Alli after five minutes and Kieran Trippier superbly curled home the set piece for his first international goal.

England could then have had the semi won by half-time, but Harry Maguire, Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard all failed to finish clear chances.

And England were made to pay when Croatia, after dominating possession in the second half, equalised in the 68th minute through Ivan Perisic – the winger Jose Mourinho has tried to sign for Manchester United.

Mario Mandzukic then scored the winner in the second period of extra-time to break English hearts.

England fans sang in the stadium until 1am after defeat

A deflated Kane said: “It’s tough. We’re gutted, you know. We worked so hard.

“It hurts and it’ll hurt for a while, but we can hold our heads up high.

“It was a fantastic journey, we got further than anyone thought we could, we’ve just got to learn from it.

“We created some good chances being 1-0 up, there are lots of ifs and buts and it is hard in these games, it is small margins and it went their way today. We played well at the start and in extra time but we missed a few chances to kill them off.

“Until they scored in the second half we were always under the cosh. Maybe we dropped too deep at times. There is a lot we could have done better but they played better.

England fans sang in the stadium until 1am after defeat

“Obviously it has been great to get to this stage and we know we have done everyone proud but we wanted to win.”

Now England have to pick themselves up to face Belgium in the third place play-off against Belgium in St Petersburg on Saturday.

But Kane says when the disappointment eases there are plenty of positives.

He added: “It shows we can be up here, that we can win knockout games, can get to semi-finals and the next step is to go one step further.

“This is a great foundation we have built with the gaffer, we are proud of what we have achieved but we wanted more and are sad we couldn’t give our fans a final. The fans were amazing.

“There are a lot of positives to take from this tournament. It’s a big stepping stone from two years ago.”

England fans sang in the stadium until 1am after defeat

Jordan Pickford slumps to the ground as England crash out the World Cup

BIG MATCH VERDICT – From Richard Tanner in Moscow

The 52 years of hurt will now stretch to four more as England put their fans through the emotional wringer again.

It hurts like hell but if there is a consolation, unlike the agony of 1990 and 1996, it didn’t end on penalties this time.

On a night of almost unbearable tension, Mario Mandzukic’s well-taken goal in the second half of extra-time was enough to end all the unlikely English dreams and secure Croatia a World Cup final with France.

And when the dust has settled Gareth Southgate’s battlers were beaten by the better team – – although there wasn’t much in it.

In a stadium where Coe, Ovett and Wells won gold at the 1980 Olympics the best England can now achieve is bronze – if they win the third place play-off against Belgium.

But England have exceeded all expectations, restored some of their battered international pride and can return home with heads held high.

Harry Kane looks dejected after England crashed out the World Cup

Knocked out by an Icelandic nation of just 330,000 people two summers ago, dispatched from the last World Cup at the group stage four years ago, reaching the last four is a success and gives a young, improving team a platform to build on.

It was a roller coaster ride from first minute to last. It that went mostly up in the first half and mostly down in the second and all over the place in extra-time when John stones had a header cleared off the line and Mandzukic struck his heart-breaking goal.

In a sense, this is where the real World Cup started for England – they had won all the four games they were expected to win – but this was a step up in class and it wasn’t one they couldn’t take.

“Three Lions” was blaring out from the PA speakers as the players warmed up as if the players needed any motivation or inspiration.

And it was echoed across the living rooms, bars, restaurants and fan parks across the country as a nation turned its hopeful eyes to screens of all shapes and sizes.

An estimated 25m put their lives on hold to watch. In these political divisive times, only football it seems can bring unity to the people.

Rarely has the national anthem been sung with such gusto as it was by the players and the 8,000 English fans – including the Southgate lookalike complete with waistcoat – who had made the trip to the Russian capital.

They were rubbing their eyes in disbelief when after just five minutes Keiran Trippier – surely one of the players of the tournament surely – bent it just like Beckham to curl a free-kick into the top corner.

Nine goals out of 12 for the set-play kings and what a time for the boy from Bury to score his first international goal.

Croatia held sway when it came to hard-nosed experience. But you wouldn’t have believed in the first period.

England were comfortable on the ball, Jordan Pickford was assured with hands and feet in goal, Jordan Hendrson and Dele Alli qulled the threat of Luka Modric while Croatia’s other star man Ivan Rakitic wasn’t on his game, four times putting a stray pass into touch. He probably doesn’t make that many mistakes in a season with Barcelona.

John Stones, Harry Maguire and Ashley Young all made vital blocks and interceptions when the Croatians did threaten.

Midway through the first half the Russians in the crowd started booing Croatia defender Domagoj Vida, the former Dynamo Kiev defender, who has expressed his sympathies on social media for Ukraine. And that was despite the Croatians fans held aloft a huge banner saying “thank you Russia” before the game.

It could have been even better for England had Jesse Lingard put away a good chance. That probably would have been too much to ask.

But it couldn’t – and didn’t – last. Croatia were too good to go quietly and the roller-coaster took a stomach-dropping dip.

There was plenty of optimistic talk in the England camp about Croatia’s fatigue after back to back knockout games where they endured the mentally and physically draining experience of 120 minutes and shoot-outs.

But they dug deep to step up their game in the second half when star pair Modric and Rakitic finally came to the party.

Maybe Kyle Walker was still feeling the effects of blocking a Rakitic shot in the “unmentionables” when moments later, as went to make a diving headed clearance, Ivan Perisic came from behind to stick out his left leg to divert the ball home.

For the first time in the tournament England wobbled as Perisic hit the post, Mandzukic forced a save out of Pickford. Croatia now seemed to be first to every loose ball. Where they got their energy from God knows.

England steadied the ship to ensure the extra half an hour of agony, Southgate shuffled his pack but the wily Mandzukic had the last word – stealing a yard on Stones as Perisic headed into the box.

So the wait goes on but the future looks so much brighter.

post source

Leave a your comments