England’s World Cup dreams came to a crushing end after Croatia rallied to prevent Gareth Southgate’s men reaching the country’s first final in 52 years.
Football will not be coming home at the end of an extraordinary summer after the Three Lions’ hopes of replicating the heroes of 1966 were extinguished in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium semi-final.
Kieran Trippier’s exceptional early free-kick had England dreaming of facing France on Sunday, but Croatia will line-up in their first World Cup final after Ivan Perisic levelled and Mario Mandzukic struck to secure a 2-1 extra-time win.
While few predicted Southgate’s side getting anywhere near Sir Alf Ramsey’s champions at the start of the summer, this bold, young side had looked capable of doing the unthinkable in Russia.
England’s hopes grew as their third World Cup semi-final started with a fifth-minute stunner as Trippier curled home a free-kick that his idol David Beckham would have been proud of.
But the Three Lions were unable to press home their advantage and Perisic snuck ahead of Kyle Walker to draw Croatia level midway through the second half, taking the match to extra-time.
Mandzukic struck the killer blow after John Stones’ effort was cleared off the line, with England players collapsing on the floor as the final whistle ended their hopes of glory.
Southgate, unsurprisingly, kept his composure despite suffering more semi-final heartache, having missed the crucial penalty in the Euro 96 shootout defeat to Germany.
It is a galling evening for his team but the future looks bright, even if it is hard after a gut punch that leaves them facing Belgium in Saturday’s third-placed play-off.
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