The glorious, beer-soaked Russian summer that changed English football and the England team forever is at an end, and the old story of 1966 will remain, for four more years at least, the greatest ever told, although it took one hell of a World Cup semi-final to keep it that way.
England are out of Russia 2018, beaten in extra-time by Mario Mandzukic’s goal, but not in that feeble, unreliable way that so many England teams have gone in the past.
There were times when Gareth Southgate’s young team could have won this game, a window in the first half when it felt like they could run away with it while Croatia, like all good teams hung on and waited for the wind to change. A miraculous sporting nation of just 4.1 million souls, they will play France in the World Cup final on Sunday.
It is, after all, not coming home. It is not even coming back for a brief look-around and a robust discussion about the relative merits of a back three without a natural left-sided defender.
Soon, when the Premier League season begins afresh this may feel like a dream, a dizzying tour of sun-drenched old Soviet Union strongholds watched through a mist of beer tossed over heads in box parks and conventional parks too. Only the third World Cup semi-final in 68 years for the England team and yet still cause for a nagging regret at missed opportunities.
Afterwards, Gareth Southgate seemed reluctant to draw conclusions and he will know that there was something of the old England in the way that his team were rattled, going from a team that looked like it could not lose this semi-final to one just about hanging on.
This Croatia team, 20 years on from that semi-final defeat to France, had the tournament ringcraft that every England World Cup team bar one has lacked, vulnerable for the second time in the knockout stages to a goal late in the day.
When Kieran Trippier swept in a free-kick after five minutes it soon felt like England might dominate a Croatia bent out of shape by the running of Southgate’s players who were occupying the places that Luka Modric was supposed to be.
The little maestro was enclosed by the England midfield and it would take until the second half when the Croatia captain began figuring out the route, emerging into space at last. Not just him but Ivan Perisic too, who scored the equaliser on 68 minutes and dragged his team back into the game, making the second for Mandzukic.
If he can do it against, France after three extra-time periods in the knockout stages, then Perisic could yet eclipse Modric as the leading player in this team and this tournament. Although it never looked that way in the first half with England in the ascendancy and Croatia wobbling all over pitch.
Their left-back Ivan Strinic was falling apart, and in attack Raheem Sterling felt just one clean strike on goal from football immortality.
Dejan Lovren benefited from the early leniency of Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir in a period of the game when the Liverpool defender was committing fouls he felt he had no option but to make. He shoved Kane and kicked Sterling in the space of six minutes but did not get the the yellow card that would have made him vulnerable.
The England captain still looks the most likely candidate to finish the World Cup as the golden boot winner but this was a strange evening for him, in which he missed one first half chance and then faded after the break. He is judicious in possession and draws the foul well, but his reputation is built on goals and when he was presented with his best chance of the game on 29 minutes it was saved by goalkeeper Danjiel Subasic.
That was not the only miss, there was one for Jesse Lingard too later in the first half when Kane drove forward with the ball and then Dele Alli laid it off to England’s little fizzing energy-drink of a midfielder. Lingard’s shot was stroked wide of Subasic’s post and again you wondered whether these players knew that, looming in the future, there would inevitably be a time when Croatia seized the initiative and had their chances too.
England’s goal had come early, from a premium free-kick conceded by Modric of all people who clipped the heels of Dele. Even then at that stage, England had worked it well from Lingard’s tidy knockdown and suddenly there was a great chance, on the edge of the box and central. Trippier stroked the free-kick over the wall and past Subasic’s right hand like he was slotting the last ball in the garden through an inviting open garden shed door.
After 28 minutes, the left-back Strinic passed the ball straight into touch on his side of the pitch and his manager Zlatko Dalic allowed his despair to show itself for a second before composing himself. By the end of the night Dalic, a former footballer who never won an international cap and coached most recently in the Gulf states, was in his red chequer-board shirt and describing how he watched the first three games in the 1998 tournament as a fan.
The game changed after the break and as the game went into the final ten minutes, England’s share of possession in the second half dropped to 30 per cent. They were being pressed much higher up the pitch by Croatia and although they found their way again in the first period of extra-time, England never rediscovered the form of the first half.
When Sime Vrsaljko picked the ball up on the right and whipped in a cross on 68 minutes it felt like the kind that England had dealt with all night. Kyle Walker dived for it and with the ball at shoulder height, Perisic jabbed a foot in above the head of the defender and steered it past Jordan Pickford.
Minutes later Perisic hit the post. He went close again. In extra-time there were chances that will be forgotten in time, including a John Stones header cleared off the line by Vrsaljko.
A great save from Pickford from Mandzukic’s shot. Then with six minutes of the 120 left Perisic out-jumped Trippier for a header, and Mandzukic was first off the mark, burying a shot past Pickford before England reacted. The margins are fine, but the bigger picture was clear by then, and it did not look good for England.
That’ll do it for our blog, I think
Hard lines, England. They tried their level best but they couldn’t get that second when they were having the best of it. Ultimately the passing, composure and experience of Croatia ground them down. Very disappointing.
But no disgrace! England did far better in the tournament than anyone could have hoped. And, for a while, Gareth Southgate and his team allowed us all to dream. And that should not be sniffed at.
Thanks for following with us. Goodnight.
Here’s Jason Burt on Jordan Henderson on Luka Modric
This was the biggest challenge of Jordan Henderson’s career. The challenge of stopping the best midfielder on the planet in a World Cup semi-final.
The fact that Henderson was probably England’s best player and yet was pushed to the absolute limit showed just how good Luka Modric is. The fact Modric got even better when Henderson went off showed how well the Liverpool captain did.
The legs were tired, the hamstring was tight but Henderson strained himself to try and not give in to that even if he was stretched to breaking point with the workload demanded of him.
In the first-half time and again Henderson just got himself in front of Modric enough to stop him opening England up. Modric worked his way into the penalty area, shaped to shoot, cross, or cut the ball back but Henderson jockeyed and blocked and made the angle disappear. Then on half-time he did it again as Modric appeared to find the purchase for a shot – only for Henderson to thwart him.
Souey not afraid of putting the boot in
Of course he isn’t! He was on something called BeIn Sports this evening
„You can’t win the big trophies, you can’t dominate football matches, you can’t put yourself in a position where you are not giving the ball away unless you’ve got good players in midfield who can keep the ball.
„I come back to Lingard and Dele Alli – two players who want to get on the end of things after there has been clever play by somebody else.
„They don’t want to get involved in keeping the ball and dominating possession.
„And the make up of the team was all wrong tonight. All wrong tonight. When they come up against a decent team, I think it’s inevitable that they were going to struggle tonight.“
He says that England played the worst (Panama) and the second worst (Tunisia) teams in it. Oh Souey.
Loads to enjoy in this piece from Molly McElwee at the Boxpark in Croydon.
A cacophony of noise can be heard as you get off the train at East Croydon station, the sort of atmosphere you might expect around a stadium. “Football’s coming home…” “Please don’t take me home…” “Southgate you’re the one…”
Instead, next door is Boxpark Croydon, a warehouse venue where 1,200 England fans gathered to watch England’s first World Cup semi-final appearance in 28 years. Not a Croatia fan in sight – not a hand without a pint either (unless it was flying through the air).
Huge screen up, DJ blasting the tunes you might expect – World in Motion, Three Lions – and perhaps some of the more surprising hits of this summer of football (namely Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again). A crowd of united England shirts, pint-stained white, the Umbro classic of 1990, and an army of Gareth Southgate inspired waistcoat-wearing fans singing along. All were the lucky few to grab tickets which sold out within 10 minutes online.
Well worth a read. Shame, there will be some hangovers tomorrow. Also: the manager of Boxpark in Croydon is called David Byrne! Presumably not of Talking Heads fame.
Gareth reaction piece by Matt Law
“The reaction from the fans at the end shows you everything they’ve given,” said Southgate. “We’ve come an incredibly long way in a short space of time. The whole thing is beyond where we thought we might go. Tonight we weren’t quite there. But the team will be stronger for it.“
For England, a match on Saturday
A third-place play-off against Belgium.
Not the weekend assignment they wanted, but it’ll seem better by the weekend, maybe. I hope they’re not too devastated, the players. They have done themselves, the national side, English football and perhaps even the country as a whole a lot of good these last few weeks. We got a run for our money.
„I think this England team have a lot to do. These players need to be at top clubs, I see a lot of them week in week out in the League and they are at middling clubs.
„I made the point a few days ago, you have to focus on one game at a time, I heard people all talk about finals, football’s coming home. You all were planning the parades.“
Actual shouting match with Ian Wright! Wright: „We were happy! Why weren’t you happy for us being happy?!“
Gareth Southgate interviewed by Gabriel Clarke
I don’t know if we deserved better. first half we were really good and maybe could have got another.
Second half, they got the goal their tails were up. Maybe we had a little bit of inexperience.
He praises the reaction of the fans
No issues with Harry Kane before the start of the game.
We are where we are as a team. We have come an incredibly long way in a short period of time, beyond where we thought we could go.
At the end we thought we could stem the tide but there were not clear changes that we thought that we could change things.
There was a period of 20 minutes in the second half where we just stooped playing.
We got so close to something that was unimaginable at the start.
We have left everything out there. I don’t think we could have given more over the six or seven weeks.
It is great for smaller countries. England were positive and excellent in the first half, especially with the shock of the earlier.
England were hoping that we would get tired but we started to control the game, when we could control the ball in midfield. We were starting to dominate in physical and tactical ways.
It is tough. We worked so hard. It was 50-50 game. It hurts a lot and we are going to hurt for a while. It has been a fantastic journey.
We created some good chances at 1-0, maybe we got a bit too deep at times. These big games, small margins. Until they scored we were under the cosh and once they scored we picked back up again.
They played well, made it difficult for us. It’s hard to out your finger on what went wrong.
We thought we were good enough to go on and win it. The next step now is to go one further. We have build a good foundation with the gaffer and now we want to go on.
We have to dust ourselves down and be proud of what we achieved. Then we go again.
GOAL! Croatia 2 England 1 (Mandzukic 109)
Oh, England. Oh that is hard. The mental strain had been building and bulding. A ball played in, it is half cleared by Walker, who looks exhausted.
Trippier needs to head this clear under pressure from Perisic, but the Croat has got the better of him. He heads it into the area and there is Mandzukic to pounce and slot it home. So, so hard for England but I think about fair on the balance of play.
All a bit of a horlicks, as you can see from the graphic.
105 mins: Croatia 1 England 1
Alli tries his level best to gather a wayward pass from Harry Kane. Cannot. Two minutes added to this period.
Perisic down the left. England have men back, well organised. He slips it to Kramaric, whose shot is charged down. Played back in, Modric tries the spectacular but gets it all wrong.
Suddenly an opening! Perisic down the left, Mandzukic has got the beating of Stones, he slides in to get it… and Pickford has thrown himself in the way. He’s absolutely clattered Mandzukic, who is a big strong boy. Pickford is totally fine. Nails.
91 mins: Croatia 1 England 1
Alli and Lingard have the ball in a decent area but Croatia have loads back. Still anybody’s game but you have to say that Croatia look a bit more…. sophisticated? Experienced? No changes yet for them. But might the trade off be fatigue?
England have not had a shot on target since the goal!
79 mins: Croatia 1 England 1
It is nervy stuff. My goodness. England make a huge production of clearing, Kieran Trippier tries a backpass, no look. Eeek. Maguire comes to his rescues but then himself plays Pickford into trouble. Pickford tries to clear and so nearly picks out a Croatian. Comedy of errors stuff.
71 mins: Croatia 1 England 1
The post comes to England’s rescue. England fail to clear, Stones shoulda whacked it. Perisic has got free again down the left side, he’s cracked a shot and Pickford is well beaten. It hits Pickford’s left hand post. It bounces quickly back to Rebic whose shot is tame and straight at the grateful Pickford.
GOAL! Croatia 1 England 1 (Perisic 68)
Ah, shame. It was a quality goal. An excellent cross from the right. Perisic has got his foot up very high, head height really, and he just manages to nick the ball off Walker’s head. Pickford no chance.
The switch of wingers did the trick. Perisic has beasted Walker there 🙁
England have reasonable claims that could have been a free for dangerous play I guess.
64 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
Modric comes deep to take it from Brosovic, one-two. Luka Modric continues his run. Into the area, and it drops for Perisic. He hits a ferocious shot that hits Walker in what football commentators like to delicately refer to as… his penis and testicles. He did not enjoy that very much. Needs the trainer on and helped to his feet.
46 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
Strinic and Rebic making some good headway down the England left. A vaguely nervy start for England. The Croatia wingers Rebic and Persic have swapped sides.
Rebic soon settles into his new home on the left by whacking Trippier in the mush as they got up for a header. A booking.
Analysis: England have been the better side
They’ve been quicker, bolder and more exciting. They have had the more useful chances. Kane could have made it two apart from a fine double save. Sterling is roasting the centre backs.
All that said, Croatia have been coming into it more and more and have very dangerous players. Modric probing, and those two powerful, strong wingers cutting inside. This is far, far from over.
Half time: Croatia 0 England 1
Superb from England.
Dejan Lovren is behaving like an absolute chop. Shoved Kane in the stomach and Sterling in the throat, then had a bit of a lie down in the England box because Maguire breathed on him.
You need a good dastardly foreigner in an England World Cup match, and the Liverpool man has stuck his hand up.
44 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
But out of nowhere, England play themselves into trouble. An underhit back pass from Maguire, Pickford tries to hack clear with Walker chaperoning, finds only a Croatian, Perisic. England just about have enough to close it down…
… England make a foul soon after, though.
Modric freekick in. Half cleared. Modric picks it up… superb covering and tackle from Henderson. Wait. Lovren fell over during that freekick and they are going to have a quick VAR.
VAR finds nothing and rightly so. That is half time.
41 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
Croatia now taking the sting out. Slow play. At the back. Not a bad tactic for them, I think. If this is open and quick, England can get their tails up, enthusiasm of youth and all that.
A classy, patient move ends with Vrsaljko smashing a foolish, ugly shot a mile over from 35 yards. Idiot.
20 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
Lovren has shoved Kane, hard, in the solar plexus. That could have been a booking, no? Anyway, a short freekick. The ball through to Subasic. And now the Croatian goalie has had a total episode! He gives the ball to Strinic, a proper hospital pass, the defender has lost it to Sterling, who slips it through to unmarked Kane…. he is well offside.
17 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
England fans brave enough to boo the link up and passing play of Modric and Rakitic, the latter playing the ball out as he tries to find the overlapping Vrsaljko.
Croatia are rocking and reeling here. England look quicker, sharper, younger, hungrier. They look very dangerous from set pieces. Croatia’s classy passers not able to dictate.
13 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
England with a quick, bright move, they get the break of the ball. Alli looks up, and plays it out to the right. A despairing Croatian interception, and England have another corner. This time from the right.
Maguire! Gets up really well again, and heads it back across the goal. Wide of the post.
Here’s the goal celebration.
8 mins: Croatia 0 England 1
Croatia dust themselves down. Young, under pressure, concedes a corner.
And England come on the break from that.
A glistening factoid: „Kieran Trippier is the first number 12 to score this World Cup. This is the first time since the introduction of 23-man squads at the WC (2002) that all 23 shirt numbers have scored at least once (this includes own goals).“
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Rebic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic. Subs: Livakovic, Corluka, Kovacic, Kramaric, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Badelj, Pjaca, Pivaric, Lovre Kalinic.
England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Alli, Henderson, Lingard, Young, Sterling, Kane. Subs: Butland, Rose, Dier, Vardy, Welbeck, Cahill, Jones, Delph, Rashford, Loftus-Cheek, Alexander-Arnold, Pope.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
„Mood is no different. This is the next game. We have prepared in the same way ever time.
„We have the same time but the options to change it from the bench.
„They have some excellent attacking players and great spirit. We have to be mentally strong.
„I will emphasise that we are in it. Trust ourselves. I think Bobby would tell me to enjoy it. This is a privilege to lead your team into this.“
Has he been able to block out all the expectation – Ian Wright says that he’s unable to function he‘ (Wright) is so excited.
„Well, I can block Wrighty out!“ jokes Gareth.
Telegraph football writer Luke Edwards
had draped himself in a St George cross, he’s covered in facepaint, he’s literally certain that it is coming home.
Tactics boffin JJ Bull
(who, it feels significant to point out, is not an English person) here looks at the hype, myth and reality of Raheem Sterling. What is it that he actually does for the England team?
Raheem Sterling has been one of England’s key players this World Cup. Quite a lot of people (on the internet) don’t seem to think so and, as has become depressingly usual, many sections of the media haven’t really helped.
Off-the-pitch nonsense has meshed with missed scoring chances to form a narrative in which ‚Sterling is rubbish‘.
In reality, Sterling has done a heap of work off the ball that allows others to benefit. Intelligent movement, quick running, pulling defenders all over the place – the team is much better with him in it.
That said, there is no denying that he is not a natural finisher and despite the sweeping tides of both anti-Sterling and anti-anti-Sterling sentiment, we might do well to take a middle road.
So, is Sterling bad or good? What does he actually do for England?
CONTENT ADVISORY: Features people from Yorkshire being pleased with themselves
Nevertheless, if you have the appetite for it, here is a piece about how Yorkshire is providing the engine room for the England football team.
Semi-final success: it can be done!
But the semi most of us remember, of course, was West Germany 1p England 1 in Italia 1990. I spent most of yesterday rewatching the BBC coverage of that.
How are you feeling?
Nervous? Excited? Already loudly singing „It’s Coming Home“? England play Croatia in the World Cup semi-final at 7pm and, bizarre though it feels to type that, I have checked it thoroughly and the results are in: Gareth Southgate’s team are one match away from the World Cup final. In the next couple of hours, I will bring you all the build up and the team news: we expect we know what the England team will be. Harry Kane, Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and company.
Few more problems for the Croatian side to sort out, they are sweating on the fitness of their full-back Sime Vrsaljko. He’s vital to their system and gives an injection of pace and attacking threat down the right. England’s left wing-back Ashley Young, who has had a really good tournament in many ways (not least his vital set-pieces), can be got at defensively. That feels like an important fitness test, to me.
In the centre of their midfield, Croatia have their two aces: Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. They’re both as good as anything in Russia: Modric with his darting raids, Rakitic with his vision and passing. England have their work cut out for them in the middle of the pitch.
Where England are strong is at set plays, and with pacy runners coming from deep. Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli could unsettle the Croatians. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether Croatia will be fatigued from having to play two 120-mins + penalties. England have had one, when they finally broke their shootout hoodoo against Colombia, and then a relatively easy passage against Sweden in 90 minutes.
I personally fancy England to win, but Croatia represent a step up from anything they have faced so far. Let me know what you reckon at the bottom of the blog, or do a tweet at me @alantyers, because we would love to hear how everyone else reckons this could go.