England are out of the Russia World Cup following a 2-1 semi-finals defeat to Croatia in extra time in Moscow on Wednesday.
The Three Lions were roaring for a first Final appearance since winning the coveted title at home in 1966 but, the night belonged to the surprise package, Croatia, who sailed through for the first time in their history.
It was the English who took an early 5th minute lead through Kieran Trippier’s lovely free-kick to send Luzhniki Stadium into frenzy.
But despite trailing at the breather, Croatia continued to battle in the second half, showing grit and tenacity as they probed England’s backline time and again.
The breakthrough came courtesy of Ivan Perisic, who jumped high to poke home a corner kick for the leveler in the 66th minute and send the game into the extra time.
Buoyed by the goal, Croatia swung into full attack and were rewarded through Mario Mandzukic, who grabbed the winner in the 109th minute.
Croatia became the smallest nation to reach a World Cup Final since Uruguay in 1950, as well as the lowest ranked ever (20th).
With a population of 4m people, it is an incredible achievement.
The head coach Zlatko Dalic said.
“What our players did today, the strength they’ve shown, the stamina, the energy levels. I wanted to substitute but no one wanted to be subbed, everybody kept saying ‘I’m ready, I can run on’.
“Some players played with minor injuries with which they would have not played some other games. Two players played with half a leg, but didn’t show.
“Nobody wanted to give in when I was preparing the first eleven, nobody wanted to say I was not ready in extra time, no one wanted to be subbed and this shows character and what makes me proud. Nobody gave up.”
Gareth Southgate, the England manager was proud of his charges regardless of the heartbreak.
“At the moment we all feel the pain of the defeat. Did we expect to be in this position? I don’t think realistically any of us did. But when you’ve got to this point and you’ve played in the way we have and played as well as we have in the first half you want to take those opportunities in life.
“The dressing room is a very difficult place at the moment. But what I will say is I’m remarkably proud of a group of players who have really advanced.
“I think the reaction of the supporters to them, compared to two years ago, tells them that, first and foremost, that experiences with England can be positive, the country are very proud of them and the way that they’ve played and there will in time be a lot of positives to take.”
England will face Belgium on Saturday in the third place offs, while Croatia and France will battle it out for the main prize a day later.
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