England’s Indian summer has ended tonight as the Three Lions fell to a heartbreaking extra-time loss to Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium.
It all started so well, too.
On what was England’s first semi-final appearance at a World Cup since Italia ‘90, they had a dream lead within the opening few minutes.
Kieran Trippier, his route to appearing at this tournament itself a feat of Disney-like proportions, scored his first goal at international level with a sweet free-kick from twenty-five yards.
It’s a moment he would have dreamt of countless times on his journey to this point but even he, surely, could scarcely believe it when his set piece found its way into the Croatian net.
England were perhaps unlucky not to tac on another goal during a first half in which they were utterly dominant and looked to have a date with their old Gallic enemies for Sunday evening half pencilled into the diary.
In what was the proverbial game of a two halves, however, it wasn’t to be that way as Luka Modric orchestrated a Croatian assertion of control over the tie in the second forty-five.
As a national side that have changed the mood of a nation there’s a range of qualities this England side has.
Youth, energy, pace, enthusiasm and a rare common touch carried them through the tournament to this point but what what they lack in their number is a genuine, bona fide playmaker.
That, sadly for Southgate and his men, is not something that the Croatian national side lack and the sublime Luka Modric led his side back from the brink of defeat and into a World Cup final.
The diminutive captain, facing legal troubles at home and playing for a sometimes openly resentful public, passed and probed and knitted his side into a position of dominance in the tie in a virtuoso display.
The Atletico Madrid right-back Šime Vrsaljko was crucial, too, in the swing of the pendulum in the Balkan nation’s favour, his forays up the right proving impossible to deal with for an ageing Ashley Young at the left hand side of the English back five.
It would be his cross that found Ivan Perišić deep in the England area with twenty minutes left on the clock.
The Inter Milan winger turned home in what would prove to be a decisive moment in the telling of this tale.
With both sides tired but perhaps the English more so, it went to yet another nerve-jangling extra-time period.
It’d be an old warrior that ended this battle in the end.
Mario Mandžukić took a rattle on the knee from Jordan Pickford earlier in the game and had to be treated on the turf for the impact of it.
In the second half of extra-time, he ghosted behind John Stones and into a rare pocket of space and turned home in lethal fashion. He’d soon have to be subbed off for that earlier injury. The bruising figure of the Croatian frontman left the field unwillingly, but not without scoring a goal that would drag his nation to a historic achievement.
Watch the moment that immortalised him and left England crestfallen below.
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